A man with a mysterious past is lured out of self-imposed retirement to track down and rescue a kidnapped young girl before time runs out. This, in a nutshell, is the premise of Jeong-Beom Lee’s The Man From Nowhere, and, while you’d be forgiven for thinking that, based on this description, the is film is little more than a Korean knock-off of Taken, you’d be oh so very wrong. Lee’s film is a gorgeously filmed, spectacularly violent, and pulse-pounding action/drama with a protagonist who reaches levels of cool not seen since Chow Yun Fat introduced the world to Gun-fu. The fact that this film also packs heart and humor in equal measure is an unexpected and much-appreciated bonus.
Tae-Sik (Won Bin) is an enigmatic pawn shop owner in a rundown part of town. He’s a solitary sort, obviously more than happy to be off the grid, and prone to spending much of his time in his tiny apartment or sitting behind the screen window of his shop, a swooping curtain of thick hair hiding his face from the rest of the world. The only person with whom Tae-Sik regularly interacts with is the young So-Mi (Sae-Ron Kim) – a lonely child whose junkie mother, Hyo-Jeong divides her time between stripping, whoring, and shooting up, with nary a minute to spare for her own daughter.
When Hyo-Jeong takes part in the theft of a sizeable amount of heroin, she hides the drugs in a camera bag and pawns it to Tae-Sik for safe keeping. However, when thugs in the employ of the drug lord she stole from come a knockin’, they torture the whereabouts of the dope out of Hyo-Jeong, and then kidnap her and So-Mi. Three of the thugs break in to Tae-Sik’s shop, but pay the price as we soon learn that this man is much more than an introverted pawn shop owner.
When Hyo-Jeong turns up dead, her eyes and organs harvested for sale on the black market, Tae-Sik embraces his mysterious past, and sets about doing what he does best – a whole lot of killin’. He’s going to find So-Mi, even if he has to take down much of the city’s criminal underworld to do it.
While The Man From Nowhere borrows from films like Leon, Man on Fire, and the aforementioned Taken, it makes up for an admittedly overused premise with slick execution, borderline-sadistic levels of violence, and the presence of Won Bin (Mother), who is, quite simply, coolness personified. He has the swagger and charisma of Chow Yun Fat, the looks of fellow-Korean mega-star, Rain, and bonafide acting chops that make his Tae-Sik more than just your average action star. Bin offers a soulful, richly layered performance here, that, when paired with Jeong-Beom Lee’s elegant direction and innovative action sequences, elevates a tired premise to an exciting new level.
Well Go USA brings The Man From Nowhere to Blu-ray in a sharp and filmic 2.35:1 transfer. The image is exceptionally well-defined, with crisp, clean edges, and an impressive level of detail, especially in facial features and fabrics. The film’s aesthete is in keeping with the current crop of films of this nature, so colors are a touch muted, with much of the film taking place in darkness and shadow. Fortunately, blacks are rich and true, with just a hint of pleasing grain, and contrast levels are perfect. This is one of the nicer transfers I’ve seen, offering a truly cinematic experience that’s bolstered by a pulverizing 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track (Korean or miserable English dub) that sports some brutal bass, crystalline highs, and a nicely immersive surround mix.
As with most import flicks, The Man From Nowhere lacks in the extras department, offering only a pair of short featurettes, one of which is a collection of behind-the-scenes looks at a few of the film’s key action sequences as they’re being shot, with the other being a short “highlight reel” of the film’s standout moments. Rounding out the extras are trailers this film and for upcoming Well Go releases.
The Man From Nowhere continues the trend of excellent cinema coming out of Korea. It’s a slickly-made, exceptionally well-acted, and exciting as all get out action flick that not only sets a new benchmark in the genre, but could also be the film that launches star Won Bin to international action star levels. The Blu-ray from Well Go USA, while lacking terms of supplemental goodies, offers an outstanding A/V experience, that, when coupled with a film of this caliber, makes adding The Man From Nowhere to one’s Blu-ray collection a no-brainer. Highly recommended!