Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Man From Nowhere

I watched the Korean action movie The Man From Nowhere (AKA Ajeossi) on a whim.  I haven't been watching much Asian cinema recently, and this one was streaming on Netflix with pretty decent user ratings.  How bad could it be, right?  The cover has a tough-looking dude protecting a girl, which means that this is an action movie without a love interest.  It's not that I dislike love stories, but I was in the mood for bad-ass action without the hassle of caring who lives and dies.  Surprisingly, my half-assed analysis of the cover turned out to be downright prophetic; if you like Man On Fire and Taken, then The Man From Nowhere is definitely in your wheel house.
...Especially if you love Korean discos

Cha (Bin Won) is gruff and standoffish.  He lives in a dingy apartment behind a crappy pawn shop, which appears to be in the middle floor of a tenement.  That seems like an odd location to have a store, but I certainly am not a Korean real estate expert.  The only person who seeks Cha out is So-Mi (Sae-Ron Kim), the obviously neglected daughter of Cha's drug-addicted stripper neighbor.  So-Mi likes Cha because they are both outsiders; the neighborhood calls Cha "Pawnshop Ghost" and her "Garbage," which So-Mi correctly observes would make a great rock band name. 
Plus, he already has the haircut
Things go on like this for a while, but the druggie mom manages to get involved in a drug murder.  I could explain how, but it's fairly complicated and doesn't really affect the main plot.  The end result is that drug dealers kidnap druggie mom and So-Mi, forcing Cha to act as a drug mule for them.  Cha is willing to do that.  Things start to turn sour when Cha's drug run is actually a set-up by some drug dealing underlings to frame/kill the local big boss.  Worse, these underlings have a habit of using kids to handle dangerous drugs until they die, at which point their organs are sold on the black market. 
Less pleasant implications than Clockwork's scene
So Cha was all like, "Oh, hell no!" and decides (after a quick haircut) to kill the hell out of the drug dealers to avenge/rescue So-Mi.  Spoiler alert: he's good at it.
Cha is a janitor's nightmare

Bin Won was pretty good as the stoic and tortured lead in The Man From Nowhere.  His action scenes, while mostly gun fighting, were pretty impressive when he got physical.  As far as his acting goes, tough guy roles are a dime a dozen, and he doesn't screw up.  I was less impressed with the flashback scenes that explain his tortured soul, but he was at least decent in those.  Sae-Ron Kim was kind of obnoxious as the kidnapped girl; she was just annoying and depressing, with a notable exception at the very end of the film.
Annoying and presumably soulless
What separated The Man From Nowhere from most other Asian crime movies was the villains.  Well, for me, anyway.  I loved the comically evil and anime-styled workings of Seong-oh Kim as one of the twin drug lords, if only because they added some high spirits and campiness to a story that is pretty damn depressing. 
Give him whiskers and he's ready for Naruto
I also enjoyed Hee-won Kim as the other evil twin; he wasn't as ridiculous as Seong-oh, but was still merciless enough to justify the vengeance that was raining down upon his organization.  Thanayong Wongtrakul also makes an interesting appearance as the sadistic enforcer for the drug gang; he was decently tough, but I found it interesting that he spoke English in the movie for no particular reason that I could fathom.  Plus, he had a couple of pretty sweet knife fights with Cha.

Having said that, The Man From Nowhere is nothing you haven't seen before.  A reluctant tough guy is forced to kill a ton of bad guys to rescue or avenge a young girl.  If you haven't seen Commando, Man On Fire, or Taken, you still probably know what will happen next in this plot.  This predictability is tempered a bit by solid production values and fine direction from Jeong-beom Lee, but that shadow is still hovering over this movie.  Thankfully, the shoot-em-up action scenes --- particularly the climactic scene in the bath house --- are all good and the hand-to-hand scenes are impressive.  The dialogue is pretty stiff, but that could have simply been the translation.  There is one line that I genuinely liked, though: "Those living for tomorrow get fucked by those living for today." 
That's a great justification for killing a few dozen men, right?  The obviousness of the story and an underwhelming post-climax wrap-up keep The Man From Nowhere from being truly awesome, but there is still a lot to like in this revenge flick.

This song was played over the closing credits.  Not bad.

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