When Sean and I saw Jeong-beom Lee’s The Man from Nowhere (2010) newly streaming on Netflix, we noticed it had 5 stars. We were very pleased to discover that said rating was not an exaggerated measure. This is one film that I think the most squeamish would muster a second viewing and is one where sniffles from the toughest of grown men are bound to be heard by film’s end. In short, this is a fairly traditional gritty action film that isn’t. The Man from Nowhere is a “must see.”
The premise is not wholly unusual, that it is so well played is. For one, the entire cast did an exceptional job in their roles. Bin Won was convincing in his portrayal of the coolly withdrawn pawnshop keeper who is bewildered by the intrusions of a lonely young neighborhood girl flawlessly played by Sae-ron Kim. When some tearing-up was necessary or a murderous glare was required Bin Won was reliable and entirely convincing. The cops and the villains had some needed caricature, but they owned every aspect of their role to a threshold that convinces the viewer that perhaps they invented the role.
Grit finds devisement in the atmospheric, often the dark, dank, and wet. And while the setting was dark and moody, the film didn’t sacrifice the lighting or clarity in a shot. There is a sequence shot out of door in the rain, yet remained crisp as an Oregon summer afternoon. The pulsating interior of a night club creates chaos and claustrophobia while maintaining a visibility that doesn’t require audience participation in the form of leaning and squinting. Much of the film takes place in daylight, insisting that dark deeds are present in the daytime hours; dark rooms are still there behind inane commercial facades; illegal transactions are made in windowed rooms; and children and their toys are not as innocent as they should be.
The fight scenes were blissfully bad-ass; the sound effects gleeful with blood splatter and gushing, as well as the slide of knife on knife. The hero is nearly unstoppable, yet vulnerable in ways that win over the audience. He can resist a drug-ridden whore, bleed, sweat, pant in exhaustion, be emotionally wrecked, vengeful, and face the consequences of his actions.
The film asserts the right amount of drama for plot development within a pacing of action that will sustain interest and adrenaline. There are moments of humor to balance those of horror, though in the end the film would be felt, and the heart of it is found in Sae-ron Kim’s character. She is the discarded and the forsaken left to monsters that make the descriptor of wolves seem angelic. She is a name and a face that should not, nor will be, forgotten in the seedy underbelly we’d rather ignore. She is a victim worth everything the hero goes through and more—not a lover, or a fragile innocent, but a gutsy stranger who would be his friend.
Director/Writer: Jeong-beom Lee
Starring: Bin Won, Sae-ron Kim, and Hee-won Kim
Music by Shim Hyun-jeong
Cinematography Lee Tae-yoon
Editing by Kim Sang-beom
Running Time: 119
Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief nudity.
Country: South Korea. In Korean w/ subtitles was Streaming on Netflix
Sean and I have been watching a few South Korean films of late. Expect a series of mini-reviews coming real soon. There are a few you will not want to miss.