Thursday, 17 September 2015

Film Review - 'The Man From Nowhere'

If you've seen films like Taken or Man on Fire then, in many ways, you have already seen The Man From Nowhere. It is a film that is very reminiscent of those other films - with, perhaps, shades of the much earlier film, The Professional, added for flavor. Though, really, you shouldn't let its familiarity to other films put you off. The Man from Nowhere is also very much its own thing - a stylish, and often incredibly violent, action film from Korean director, Lee Jeong-beom.

Cha Tae-sik (Bon Win), an ex-special agent who is both highly trained and extremely dangerous, now lives a quiet life operating a pawn shop in a small, and run-down, neighbourhood. He is something of a mystery to the people around him - and, is clearly determined to keep everyone at arm's length. In spite of this, though, he still finds himself drawn into an odd sort of friendship with So-mi - a young girl who has been almost entirely abandoned by her mother, and is often left to wander on her own. Tae-sik is reluctant to allow himself to be drawn out of his self-imposed isolation - but So-mi's insistence, and her obvious desperation for at least one genuine friend in her life, gradually wears him down.

When So-mi's mother, Hyo-jeong, steals a package of heroin from a local gang, though, it seems inevitable that things are about to take a violent turn. When the crime boss, Oh, learns of the theft he sends his thugs around to recover the stolen drugs. Learning (through torture, naturally) that the bag in which the drugs were hidden had been pawned in Tae-sik's shop, the thugs kidnap both mother and daughter, before heading over to pay a visit to Tae-sik, himself.

This goes about as well for them as you would expect. The hired muscle is almost immediately out-classed by the former government agent, and a tense stand-off ensues.

Of course, there is still the matter of the hostages. So-mi's mother, an exotic dancer by night and an abusive drug addict by day, probably doesn't win much sympathy from our stoic hero - but, the thought of So-mi, herself, being in any danger is enough encourage him to act.

Still hoping for some sort of peaceful resolution, Tae-sik's initial plan is to play along - first, handing over the drugs, and later running a delivery for the criminals, in the hope that they will keep their word and release the two hostages. Of course, if that were the case, then the film would only be half the length it actually is. Instead, Tae-sik finds himself forced into a position as the unwitting pawn in a power-play between the two brothers and their boss. He is sent to a meeting with a package of drugs in hand while, at the same time, the police are informed and sent to the same location. The result is a three-way stand-off between Tae-sik, Oh and his gang of thugs, and the police - which results in Tae-sik being arrested.

While in custody, the police discover that any files associated with Tae-sik seems to be classified - to them, he is quite literally a 'man from nowhere'. Not willing to rely on the police, Tae-sik takes the first opportunity he can find to escape - setting out on a violent rampage to both get his revenge on the criminals who set him up and, if possible, rescue So-mi.

Tae-sik is about as far from your typical action hero as it is possible to get. He is clearly a dangerous man but, thanks in large part to Bon Win's impressive performance, it is also made very clear that the violence he is forced to dish out weighs on him in some undefinable, and deeply profound, way. This is clearly a broken man - tormented by the violence in both his past and present. And, watching his single-minded pursuit can, at times, border on disturbing. But, then, the gang that Tae-sik finds himself going up against is a particularly unpleasant one (even by violent criminal standards) - involving themselves in drug dealing, people trafficking, and even organ harvesting.

So-mi, on the other hand (well-played by Kim Sae-ron), is the exact sort of almost implausibly cute kid necessary to provoke a violent anti-hero into brutal action. And, the film is perfectly willing to take its time, early on, in order to properly establish the odd relationship between the two. So-mi's role in the story is clear, a blatant attempt to tug at the sympathies of both our hero and the film's audience, but she is played so well by the young actress that even the most cynical audience member may find themselves won over by her, anyway.

Tae-sik may provide much of the film's violent spectacle, and he naturally features heavily in the film's well-choreographed action sequences, but it is clear from the start that each has an equal share in giving The Man From Nowhere a heart that many similar films may lack. Sure, the scenes between the two may occasionally border on forced sentimentality - but, these scenes are also often where the film is at its strongest. They also create a strong context for everything that occurs when the two aren't on screen together which, once again, some similar films may struggle with.

This isn't the film to watch for complex story-telling, or unexpected plot-twists. Things will progress almost exactly as you will likely expect them to from the very opening scenes. But, it is still a highly entertaining, and occasionally surprisingly poignant, film that I can happily recommend.

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