KOREA 2010 Directed by: Lee Jeong-Beom Written by: Lee Jeong-Beom Produced by: Lee Tae-Heon Cinematography by: Lee Tae-Yoon Editing by: Kim Sang-Beom Music by: Shim Hyun-Jeong Cast: Won Bin, Kim Sae-Ron, Kim Tae-Hoon, Kim Hee-Won, Kim Seong-Ok, Thanayong Wongtrakul, Kim Hyo-Seo, Lee Jong-Pil
If THE MAN FROM NOWHERE reminds you of Luc Besson’s LEON, then you should think of it as a good thing rather than expecting a too me too movie. Essentially, THE MAN FROM NOWHERE is about a platonic friendship (love?) between a former agent (who a while ago lost his wife and his child) and a girl from the neighborhood whose mother is a drug addict and involved with a notorious crime syndicate. When So-Mi’s mother is killed over stolen drugs, So-Mi herself is sold to the drug kingpins by her aunt and ends up as an “ant”, a child drug courier. Cha Tae-Sik, the agent turned pawn shop owner, is getting caught in the middle: not only had he, unknowingly, stored the stolen drugs in his shop in a bag the mother deposited earlier, but So-Mi is also his only connection to the rest of the world, the only one he can relate to. When he learns about So-Mi being held hostage by the gang, he decides to get her back – by all means.
And he’s got an awful lot of means at his disposal: Tae-Sik is an unstoppable killing machine, a nowhere man who “only lives today”, who’s got nothing left to lose (or so he thinks), but thanks to the excellent script and Won Bin’s superior performance Tae-Sik’s character is also very real, emotionally vulnerable and sensitive (not with his enemies, though). It almost seems as if the more violent the encounters get, the more he comes to realize that there is something worth fighting for – he just doesn’t know what to make out of it. Fighting for isn’t living for (or is it), but when the last sword is drawn, the last bullet fired, all that can be shed is a tear. To be able to do that however you not only have to see through the mission, you also have to make it out alive.
THE MAN FROM NOWHERE proves that once again it all comes down to a good story and a good script: the multiple layers and plot threads provide an exceptionally strong fundament that helps rationalizing everyone’s actions and gives the audience good reasons to believe that everything’s just the way it was meant to be. THE MAN FROM NOWHERE feels so natural, so right, in short: the film makes perfect sense.
Keeping in mind that it features not just one, but basically three to four main interlinked plot threads and a parallel police investigation on top of the central rescue / revenge motif, I must say that I haven’t seen a finer script in 2010. Not that this was a particularly disappointing year for Hollywood or Europe, but I can’t remember anything matching this story and the way it’s been told: a story about the existence, about its fragility as much as its worth, presented as a synthesis of resolutely gritty thriller, discourse on friendship and spiritual tale of sacrifice.
Move over, I SAW THE DEVIL, here comes THE MAN FROM NOWHERE: the movie deserves every single award it received at the Korean Film Awards in November (and it should have received more at the Blue Dragon Film Awards). I SAW THE DEVIL was a serious contender in my opinion, but the fact that THE MAN FROM NOWHERE raked in so many awards is not proof of other films’ weaknesses, but indeed proof of its own strengths. There is little, if nothing that could be any better: THE MAN FROM NOWHERE features kind of the ideal cast, direction, writing, dialogue, editing and action; it’s one of the most violent, but also most poetic films coming out of Korea recently; it is a remarkably aesthetic film, features the most compelling ending of any movie lately and is probably the most rewarding film experience in a long while.
Compared to I SAW THE DEVIL, THE MAN FROM NOWHERE also feels more up-to-date, unleashing a world of modern-day horrors upon the audience vs. the old-school serial killer / revenge story featured in I SAW THE DEVIL that was largely driven by how things happen instead of why they happen. That also had to do with the fact that in I SAW THE DEVIL revenge is carried out for things that happened in the past and cannot be reversed (the kind of revenge that is pointless and from a theological point of view wrong), while in THE MAN FROM NOWHERE “revenge” is carried out for something that could happen in the future (except for the showdown) and is much more an act of self-defense, a necessity. There is no other choice, except So-Mi’s sure death. The context and motivation may not be identical, but it cannot be denied that Tae-Sik’s preemptive war has unmistakable resonance, while So-Hyun’s revenge is largely a playful take on genre conventions.
I could go on dissecting and analyzing every single detail of A MAN FROM NOWHERE, but it would all just lead to the same conclusion: A MAN FROM NOWHERE is a straight 10/10, 100% great movie making, 0% BS. It’s beautiful, and it’s powerful. If there’s one Korean film to watch this year, it’s this one.