Time: 119 Minutes
Won Bin as Cha Tae-sik
Kim Sae-ron as So-mi
Director: Lee Jeong-beom
An ex-special agent is involved in a convoluted drug ring drama. He has to save a drug smuggler’s innocent daughter from being the victim of her parents’ fight.
I had heard of The Man from Nowhere, an action thriller revenge film from South Korea that is meant to be good and quite underrated. Having finally checked it out, I think it’s solid. Some aspects of the story do hold it back from being better (mostly due to the familiarity) but on the whole it is really good.
The first hour establishes its world, the protagonist’s mystery and the emotional bond between him and a girl before the plot point of having to save her. After that, it turns into a fast-paced action and steps into overdrive in the last 30 minutes with a lot of fights and gunshots. There are some pacing issues, the first act can be a bit slow. There is a large number of different characters in the movie, to the point where it can feel a little chaotic at times. Thankfully, the plot narrows down its focus by the end, particularly with the climax. On the surface it looks like a typical revenge action thriller and the story is quite predictable. The plot has some twists and turns, but it’s mostly a standard rescue/revenge movie and follows a familiar path. It definitely plays similar to those type of movies, but the execution is solid. The filmmakers do a great job at getting you to care about the characters and what’s going on. It helps that the story and characters come first before the action. The protagonist being a mysterious stranger with a melodramatic backstory is very typical and doesn’t do anything particular special, but with the way he’s portrayed and the deep connection he has with the girl character is portrayed well and feels real. Predictability and pacing aside, the only other main issue I have is that it does end a bit prematurely, it could’ve been a bit longer in its final moments.
The acting is pretty good all round. Bin Won is great in the lead role. His character is definitely cliched, but he’s given enough depth and most importantly the performance made him believable. He’s quiet, brooding, calm and composed but dangerous and hiding emotional layers which eventually bubble to the surface. Also noteworthy is Sae-ron Kim as the girl that the protagonist bonds with. The relationship between the two is compelling and believable, helped by the performances, writing and the direction.
Lee Jeong-beom’s direction of the movie is great. It’s very stylish with a slick aesthetic. The cinematography is stunning, its shot with a dark and rainy atmosphere and is superbly lit, with an appropriately downbeat colour pallet. The action sequences aren’t quite as frequent as you would expect for a film of this genre but the action sequences in here are great. It doesn’t go straight for the easy gratuitous gore and violence in the first two acts, instead saving its more intensely violent scenes for the final act. The choreography is fantastic and makes the fight scenes feel very real and impactful, there’s a weight to them and they feel grounded in reality. Occasionally the camera can shake a bit, but it’s never too much. You can still always tell what’s going on and there aren’t too many quick cuts.
For what it lacks in originality, The Man from Nowhere more than compensates for with assured direction, great central performances, and action sequences. If you like action revenge thrillers, then you’ll probably like this one too.