(Opus Pictures) There's a scene in Lee Jeong-beom's The Man From Nowhere in which a man runs down a hallway and leaps through a second-story plate-glass window onto pavement. The camera follows directly behind him the whole way, seeming to fall with him and land hard, somehow keeping him in frame. The shot is so skillfully accomplished that it will hurt your mind as you rewind again and again, trying to figure out how they did it. It's one of the most jaw-dropping stunts you're likely to see, and the filmmakers slip it into the flow of action like it's no big deal. Ten seconds, over and done.
The Man From Nowhere was South Korea's highest-grossing film of 2010, and it's easy to see why. It's got the bloody intensity of Reservoir Dogs mixed with the emotional pathos of Léon: The Professional. It's definitely not for children, although children play a large part in the narrative. The violence is often genuinely upsetting, as violence should be.
The man who leaps through the window is Cha Tae-sik (Bin Won), and he's chasing after Jeong So-mi (Kim Sae-ron), the young daughter of his neighbor Hyo-jeong (Kim Hyo-seo), who has allowed heroin to steal her life away. So-mi has been abducted and forced into crime, ferrying drugs and stolen credit cards for a group of unscrupulous thugs. Before she's taken, however, she forms a relationship with the quiet loner Cha that makes him unwillingly remember the family he lost years before – and makes him equally unwilling to let her go without a fight.
The film paints in broad strokes, and would never be accused of being subtle; however, it handles the tried-and-true formula with a flair that's undeniable. The villains are over-the-top-evil, the hero is extra-tormented with bonus emo hair, and the fight scenes are stylishly brutal.
Take the first one, which happens in a nightclub as police try to take down a huge bruiser known as Bear: Detective Kim Chi-gon (Kim Tae-hoon) – a loose cannon who gets results – grabs a beer bottle from a tray and coolly shakes out the contents as he strides confidently toward Bear, grinning like a maniac. He shouts, “Hey, Teddy Bear! We've got snacks for you at the station!” then hurls the bottle, planting it in the middle of Bear's forehead.
Moments like this allow you to forgive the film's less successful efforts at sentimental manipulation. That's not to say that the friendship between Cha and So-mi isn't effectively portrayed; it's just a little bit overemphasized, as though the filmmakers didn't want to miss any opportunity to alert you to the fact that these two characters need each other.
Awkward heartstring-tugging is easily forgotten, though, when you've got characters like dandy psychopath Jong-seok (Kim Seong-oh) – who complains when he gets flecks of blood on his Dolce & Gabbana shirt – and quietly threatening assassin Ramrowan (Thanayong Wongtrakul) – who, for some reason, speaks only English.
The mystery of how and why Cha, AKA “The Man From Nowhere,” can take out a roomful of guys in no time flat – not to mention why he doesn't blink when a gun goes off – is something you'll have to discover for yourself when you watch this highly entertaining thriller. In addition to being a popular hit, it has won enough awards to choke a pig in the years since its release. If you've been looking to broaden your international cinematic horizons, this is a good place to start.
For Fans Of: The Raid: Redemption, Léon: The Professional, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, The Departed, John Woo, Oldboy
Why We Like It: intense action, charismatic stars, slick visual style