Sunday, 3 April 2011

DVD Review: The Man From Nowhere

The Man From Nowhere (Ajeossi)

Directed By Jeong-beom Lee

Starring: Won-Bin, Sae-ron Kim, Hyo-seo Kim

A junkie,stripper and single mother, Hyo-Jeong, seizes an opportunity to steal a shipment of heroin from a very dangerous crime organisation aided by her boyfriend. She draws her neighbour, Cha Tae-Shik into becoming an accomplice without his knowledge. The crime bosses work this out and kidnap mother and child So-Mi, forcing Tae-Shik into making a delivery for them, thinking that he is just another civilian. But Tae-Shik is far from the burn-out he looks like. Tae-Shik is pushed into a deadly confrontation with two rival gangs and the outcome is far from predictable.

Finally, a movie that lives up to the quotes on the box art! If you liked Taken, Leon and Oldboy then you'll get a real kick out of this movie.

Won-Bin (seen in the international hit, Mother) plays a grungy recluse who hides himself away in his apartment. He looks like a typical Manga character at first, with a mane of unkempt hair - the fringe of which obscures part of his face. He interacts very little with his neighbours but gets attention from the neglected daughter of a junkie stripper; So-Mi (played extremely well and emotively by Sae Ron-Kim). The girl sees Cha Tae-Shik as an outsider just as she is and disregards the building occupants mistrust of him as a potential paedophile. They build a casual friendship through the pawn shop that Tae-Shik operates.

Tae-Shik is just warming to the girl when she and her mother are kidnapped. We discover that looks are deceptive and that Tae-Shik is in fact ex-military intelligence. This serves him well as he is drawn full throttle into a dispute between two rival factions. On top of this, the Police are after him too, after discovering who and what he is.

Won-Bin exudes style a little like Chow Yun-Fat did in the Heroic Bloodshed movies of the late eighties, early nineties. He not only nails the action sequences but has a quiet charisma during his interaction with other characters during the quieter moments. His star is deservedly in the ascension at the moment.

The action sequences are top drawer in this movie, particularly in the final knife fight that eschews typical convention for the use of ambient sounds to really bring home the action and pull the viewer into it. What separates this movie from the usual action flick and effectively learns a lesson from one of it's references - Leon - is the use of emotion; emotion that Won-Bin conveys very well. We truly believe that his heart is in the battle for the life of the little girl. The character of So-Mi is quite precocious but given her mother's lifestyle and neglect of the child it seems natural for her to behave that way. There is no overtly saccarin aspects to the scenes with Tae-Shik and So-Mi in the same way that there wasn't between Mathilda and Leon, in the movie Leon.

This is a 2-hour movie that doesn't feel like it. It has all the style and action of A Bittersweet Life which is another movie worth comparing it to, although the stories are markedly different. In that movie, the central character was more an anti-hero, in this Tae-Shik has our sympathy in quite the same way that Liam Neeson's character Bryan Mills does in Taken.

Despite the many references mentioned, The Man From Nowhere feels unique and fresh because of the high quality of writing, direction and acting. It's "movie of the year" for me so far, purely for the viewing experience it gave me.
One niggle; the lack of UK Blu-Ray release forcing me to import the Region Free US disc.

Score 10/10

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