So I know I said I'll do kid friendly reviews. Well I will... next time. Here's another Korean movie review, b/c I'm up to my elbows in PBS type shows on Netflix and can't bring myself to use my writing juices to review them. I was recommended The Man From Nowhere also called Ahjussi in Korean, where they got The Man From Nowhere from Ahjussi I have no idea. In short, this was an awesome movie. Now looking back and doing some research on the film, I feel like I must have been living under a rock to have not heard about it until recently. This film was a runaway hit in Korea and internationally, garnering multiple awards. It was even Hulu's #1 watched movie at one point! Where was I? Probably busy wiping off rice off the floor and watching gripping episodes of Cat in the Hat on Netflix. The storyline, the characters, and of course the amazingly wonderful WON BIN carries it all into a sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat-with-white-knuckles thriller.
The story line is not an unfamiliar one. Won Bin pays Tae-sik as a mysterious loner/hermit with a haunting past. It becomes clear that he was a former black -ops agent, which caused him to suffer a deep heart wrenching loss, leading him to become a recluse. He owns a small pawn shop to get by. He befriends a little girl named Jung So-mi (Kim Sae-ron), his neighbor's daughter. She is also a societal outcast as her mother is a drug addict and prostitute. Their friendship on a superficial level makes sense as they are both lingering on the outskirts of society. But the movie did a great job at building the audiences attachment to the characters and their relationships. So-mi's curious, talkative, and lighthearted personality is a compliment to Tae-Shik's dark and quiet disposition. One can see that her company is a welcomed respite for him. I was reminded of the film The Professional with Natalie Portman, both girls have a buoyant personality, but also have a keen awareness of their circumstances, and a maturity that belies their age. It makes their child characters (Portman and Sae-Ron) intriguing and heartbreaking at the same time. There is a scene where she gets angry at Tae-sik because he leaves when she tells people he is her father. Here is a translated excerpt of what she says to him afterwards.
So-mi: Ajusshi! I embarrass you too, right? That’s why you ignored me? It’s okay. My teacher and all the kids at school do that, too. Mom said that if I get lost, I should forget our address and phone number. She gets drunk and says we should die. Even though that pig called me a bum… You’re meaner. But I don’t hate you. Because if I do, I won’t have anyone I like. Thinking about it hurts me here (pounding her chest). So I won’t hate you.
Previously we see her endearing talkative side, but this scene brings to light this young girl's dismal world. The plot unfolds when Somi's mother steals drugs from an organized crime gang resulting in both her and her daughter getting kidnapped. Tae-sik gets involved when Somi's mother sells him the camera bag (aka drug bag). When the ill-fated gang confronts him to retrieve the bag, they are no match for his black-ops-kick-butt skills. This gang recognizes his aptitude and makes him a deal, he needs to deliver a package in exchange for Somi and her mother. It turns out that they are just using him as a pawn to get rid of another gang. When Tae-sik realizes he was deceived, he also comes to the realization of what the gang intends to do with her. Then it turns into a movie like Taken, where we see Tae-Shik reverting back to old black-ops agent self, while kicking butt (again!) and taking names. He is fearless and ruthless, determined to find Somi.
Like every good thriller, the movie's villains hold up as much as it's heroes. In this film, they range from bad with hints of humanity, to the wickedly demented sort. More than mere plot drivers they add to the depth of the movie, making the audience fear all the more for Tae-sik and Somi's fate. There are parts of this movie that are dark and harrowing and borderline disturbing. There were some scenes I couldn't watch (though I have really low tolerance for violence). However my attachment to the characters trumped a lot of that and Won Bin was brilliant (if I haven't said it already).
I remember watching him in Autumn In My Heart and thinking he was impossibly good looking, but I didn't know if he would transcend above the mere I-can-cry-on-que-standard by which many K-Drama actors are judged. Since then I've been very impressed. Seeing this movie really made me see his deep commitment and utter embodiment of his role on the level of a Christian Bale and say, Leonardo DiCaprio. Even in his stoic demeanor in the beginning of the movie, you can sense there is a reverie of pain and anguish underneath his aloof veneer. As the layers unfold, you see what happened to him in flashbacks it becomes clear why he is the way he is.
His character had to embody a complex range of emotions for the role, and it also shapes the way you see his character in hindsight. Now, I can not review this film without talking about the fight scenes. Like I said, I don't like violent movies but if there is violence, I want to see some actual fighting, not just people shooting at each other. With that said, there were guns but often times they were knocked out and you see muscle and brains takeover. Also, there is an amazing knife fight scene. This scene is heralded by some as one of the best knife fights in movie history. In the scene you see Won Bin taking down a gang of guys with just a knife. The fight has great intensity and action balanced with restraint due to the knife. His character as a former consummate black-ops agent is never more transparent than in this fight. He uses the fierceness of his attackers to his advantage. As each one charges towards him in rage, he remains calm, and his rage is only seen through the adeptness of his intentional movements. Interestingly, the less skilled gang members provide a lot of action in that the knife is all over the place, another thing Tae-sik uses to his advantage.
Then he fights the foreman of the gang, a man named Ramrowan played by Thanayong Wongtrakul, and both have a knife. You can see they are equally skilled in that both bodies are face to face and the knife continues to stay close to the neck. With each movement they are just inches from ending the other's life. Channeling that intensity, in such close proximity, is no small feat. The fight scene with Ramrowwan is literally a minute but that's all the time needed for two skilled fighters to show what they can do.
The ending like the whole movie, is heartfelt and painful at the same time. But the journey is worth the watch. Another good movie to watch after the kids go to bed! Overall if you are in the mood for a gritty thriller, this would be a great choice!
Content: This movie again is NOT recommended for the family to watch together. It is violent and the plot has dark undertones. It is recommended if you are into thrillers, Korean movies, and Won Bin.
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