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Friday, March 11, 2011

The Man From Nowhere (Ajeossi) 2010

As I previously mentioned, I wasn't very exited about The Man From Nowhere at first but the quiet popularity it has earned gradually managed to sway me, so I sought it out and found some time to watch it last night.  The revenge drama is easily Korea's most popular export to the west, indeed the first Korean film I ever saw was Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, a multi-faceted revenge that, at the relatively young age I saw it, was the most unremittingly bleak thing I had ever witnessed.  At first I hated it, it upset me so, but I was unable to put it out of my head and a week later I felt compelled to watch it again and this time I was mesmerized by it.  I would go so far as to say that it changed the way I viewed film from that point on.  It's brutality and originality certainly had an impact on me but it was really the way it looked, its setting, and its style that left an impression.  Its working class setting, its pale green hues, its mute protagonist, all these set the quiet scene for the most horrific and unfortunate of acts which contrasted against it like gunshots ringing out in the night.  Many great revenge dramas have come out of Korea since (and many other great films also as I've been making a point of mentioning!): Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, A Bittersweet Life, Princess Aurora among others.  Last year alone we saw the release of three: I Saw the Devil, Bedevilled and The Man From Nowhere.

Tae-shik and So-mi
Lee Jeong-beom's The Man From Nowhere is a very standard revenge drama which relies on three things, its style, its violence, and its star, Won Bin.  I say standard because it really is, this revenge drama is unoriginal and, as has been mentioned elsewhere, is essentially a mash-up of Leon: The Professional and Taken.  Cha Tae-shik is a mysterious pawnbroker with a secret past, his neighbors' daughter, So-mi, forms an attachment with him while her mother gets tangled with a drug and organ dealing ring, leading to her death and her daughter's kidnap.  Tae-shik must then go after So-mi and wreaks havoc along the way.

Among its domestic peers, I think this film is closer to A Bittersweet Life than anything else.  It's plotting is simple, it's protagonist is very stoic, and it's focus is on visuals more than anything else.  The Man From Nowhere lags behind as it is not as gripping.  Its story, while straightforward, spins its wheels a little, and while very stylistic, it lacks the flair of its predecessors.  That being said, it is well shot and the sound, while often a little too pronounced, is very effective.

A villain gets his comeuppance
Despite it flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed The Man From Nowhere.  It occurred to me that the motives for the revenge in this narrative were explained but somewhat lazily.  There is on scene where Tae-Shik is tailing an 'ant' and follows him to an arcade.  He is so focused on the one child that he misses So-mi as she walks right past him.  I understand that from a filmmaker's perspective this is a trope that should get the audience going, a near miss.  To me it felt as though it emblematized the film as a whole.  It could have ended right there but our protagonist is more fueled by a desire for revenge (for what happened to his family), even if it is misdirected, than by an impulse to save his neighbor.  He kills wounded foes when they could be left to go scuttle off and lick their wounds, a stabs people a lot more than is probably necessary.  All to what end?  To avenge, to exact revenge, or to sate an audience's palpable need for brutal violence.  Make no mistake, this film is astonishingly violent.


Korean antiheroes letting go
The last shot of the film struck me, as I've seen it a number of times in Korean cinema.  He cries now that it's all over, the Korean male with the scarred past can finally let everything go and express himself.  A quiet, reserved, brutal, emotionless anti-hero is reduced to tears when his history finally catches up with him.  I plan to write a little more on this curious phenomenon.

If you can think of any good examples of strong men crying in Korean films, please let me know in the comments below!


  1. I have heard so much about Won Bin but I really haven't had the time to see something with him in it. I have this movie on my to watch list.

    But I'm getting just a tad bit sick with the whole revenge drama issue...

    About Korean men crying, I saw that you wrote about it already but may I suggest Korean dramas? Oh boy do they cry like crazy in those! And they are so beautiful doing so!

  2. If you're tired of them I wouldn't recommend this one, for Won Bin, watch Mother instead, such an extraordinary film.

    You're right, there is a lot of crying in K-Drama! One movie that I want to write about and you should see if you haven't is Sad Movie. Kind of a far better version of the recent romantic omnibus films we've seen from Hollywood recently (He's Just Not That Into You, Valentine's Day, etc.).

  3. Won Bin was in Mother? lol, well I saw it before I even knew who he was.... then I guess he is a good actor haha.

    I think I'm still going to watch it cus I'm intrigued about Wo Bin, if and when I do I shall write a review for YAM