Friday, 6 April 2012

The Man from Nowhere

The Man from Nowhere was the highest grossing Korean film of 2010 and is the second film from writer/director Lee Jeong-beom. It stars Won Bin (Mother) as Cha Tae-sik, an ex Black-Ops agent who is now leading a quiet life as a pawn shop owner. His only connection with the outside world is a little girl So-mi (Kim Sae-ron) who pretty much looks after herself as she is neglected by her drug addict mother. While Cha doesn’t really want anything to do with the girl, he occasionally takes her in and feeds her. After So-mi’s mother steals from some drug dealers, she and So-mi are kidnapped. Cha then sets out to bring back the girl and uncovers a dangerous underworld of child slavery and organ harvesting.

There are parallels here with Leon in that the story revolves around a cool, calm killer and a little girl who tries to befriend him. Their relationship at the beginning of the film is also similar with both male characters trying to help a stray little girl but without getting too involved. From then on, apart from trying to protect and save the girls, the two films are very different. This is much, much darker than Leon and is not about hit men but another, seedier side of the underworld.

The story was very good and kept me interested but I wasn’t as gripped as I had been while watching some other Korean thrillers such as The Chaser or I Saw the Devil. The film is very good, but for me it isn’t quite in their league. As with those films, and many other Korean thrillers, it is chilling and features some quite horrific scenes. They are cut in such a way that they aren’t quite as gruesome as the likes of I Saw the Devil or Bedevilled but nonetheless, what is implied is often much worse.

The two lead actors are brilliant. Won Bin shows a completely different side to the one I witnessed in Mother. It is like watching a different actor. Kim Sae-ron, only ten years old when the film was released, is outstanding, showing maturity beyond her years in a difficult and edgy role. Thanayong Wongtrakul also deserves special mention for his acting and fighting skills. Lee Jeong-beom’s direction is fairly conventional but still noticeably Korean. Everything is very crisp, clean and beautifully framed. The director also uses an interesting colour palate in the underworld scenes which give the impression of a washed out world.

There is a fight scene towards the end which is reminiscent of the corridor scene in Oldboy. Cha takes on a horde of henchmen in a well choreographed battle set inside a beautiful Roman looking ballroom. It ends with an even better fight scene, a showdown between Cha and the Vietnamese street thug played by Wongtrakul.

As usual with an interesting and successful Asian film, a Hollywood remake is in pre production. I’m not sure that it will translate well to a mass Western audience due to the dark themes and excessive blood letting. A watered down version would also be a mistake.

The film pulls on the heart strings throughout and is more emotional than your average thriller. It is edgy and beautiful, interesting and well made but a slight step down from the best that Korea has produced in the last ten years. 


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