Tae-sik is forced into action by the kidnapping of his only connection to his abandoned humanity. So-Mi, superbly played by the fiercely adorable Sae-ron Kim, is taken away by drug dealers and organ thieves seeking something the child’s mother had stolen from them. Kim is a gifted young actress, displaying acting chops far beyond her years. Her battered yet brave soul gives Tae-sik’s quest a sense of urgency it might not have otherwise had.
This urgency is further enhanced by putting Kim in the sort of peril that would be anathema to American audiences. Putting children in danger is a major no-no of made-in-Hollywood pictures, butLee goes to great lengths to convince us that So-mi is in actual, lethal danger. After all, her kidnappers are more than happy to harvest her organs to bump up their profits for the month.
The Man From Nowhere has many of the same plot beats as Denzel Washington’s 2004Man On Fire (kid gets taken, highly trained professional killer sets out after her), but the difference is in style and execution. Tony Scott’s somewhat manic directing style contrasts sharply against Jeong-beom Lee’s steady, poetic, almost postcard-like ability to choose the most beautiful, most effective shots for every scene. Lee makes effective use of the available lighting in every locale, knows how to use rain to its maximum effect and does not shirk away from the violence inherent to Tae-sik’s vengeance.
And the movie is without a doubt extremely violent. And yet, it’s not Hollywood violence, neither in quantity nor in impact. While Hollywood movie might have gone for gratuitous and over-the-top, Man From Nowhere stays well within the realm of what evil or driven men are capable of inflicting on one another. While violence is prevalent throughout, graphic scenes are kept to a minimum to maximize their punch. Once it’s finally revealed, the soul-crushing fate of Tae-sik’s family will stick with you for some time.
Tae-sik isn’t some muscular action hero; sure, he’s quick, agile, and lethal with a blade, but he’s ultimately a very human man, capable of being taken down in a few hits or by a well-placed bullet. Lee wisely saves the mildly superhuman feats of heroics for the The Man From Nowhere’s climactic final battle. Luckily, by the time we reach this sequence, the movie has more than earned the right to show off a bit.
(Massive spoiler warning!)
The Verdict [rating:5]
The Man From Nowhere is a dark journey through the hearts of men. It ends in sunlight, in what is tellingly the movie’s most brightly shot scene, yet even though there is hope and time to breathe it is tempered by the harsh reality that not all endings are entirely happy ones and that survival is a day-to-day affair. I cannot recommend The Man From Nowhere highly enough.
Your faithful reviewer,