Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Man From Nowhere

Korean superstar Won Bin proves he's more than just a pretty face in this ultra-violent crime/revenge thriller, a film that grabs you by the [your sensitive body part here] and literally does not let go until the final frame. Like fellow up-and-coming director Jang Hun (Secret Reunion), Lee Jeong-beom proves that a sophomore effort can totally kick ass as he proceeds to take what could have been yet another routine trawl through the Seoul demimonde and raises it to the heights of classical tragedy.

A cursory look at the story elements (mysterious loner, cherubic child, gangsters, cops, drugs, organ harvesting) is sure to elicit a "ho hum" from the jaded Korean film aficionado. However it's the film craft and performances that transform The Man From Nowhere (2010), ennoble it, and make it something special. Because of this, there's not a lot left for me to say -- I could go over the not-that-interesting-on-paper plot, or describe the gory details of the various gun/knife/axe/nail gun sequences, but what's the fun in that? Surely you'd rather see it, yes? Let my enthusiasm be your guide -- I've seen a boatload of these films, and if I found this one riveting, so will you.

What's that, I'm copping out? OK, let me add that the cast all give 110%, particularly leads Won Bin (as the mysterious loner badass) and wee Kim Sae-ron (as the impossibly cute little girl he must protect). Won Bin, you'll recall, was in the gut-wrenching Korean war epic Tae Guk Gi (2004), the film that broke him globally, although he was already a big star across Asia from his appearance in a number of popular Korean TV dramas, chiefly Autumn in My Heart (2000). Following the blockbuster success of Tae Guk Gi, Won dropped out of sight for five years, entering the military for real for his compulsory service and then suffering a severe knee injury. He made his comeback with Mother and, now, The Man From Nowhere. Something tells me he's going to be around awhile ...

I should add that The Man From Nowhere was a box office smash in Korea, the highest-grossing film of 2010, bagging a whole slew of Korean Film Awards including Best Actor, New Actress, Editing, Music and Visual Effects. It was on my to-see list at Pusan last year, but had already played by the time I got there (screwed the pooch on that one ... ). Thankfully, lovely PR people send me screeners, so now I'm up to speed and telling you this is one hell of a film not to be missed.

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