Relatively new director Jeong-beom Lee makes a splash with 'The Man From Nowhere' starring Bin Won ('Mother') Tae-Sik Cha. Tae-Sik is a lonely pawnshop owner who befriends a little girl named So-Mi, who occasionally comes into his shop. Her mother is working for a drug cartel as a mule. She stores her drugs at the pawnshop without Tae-Sik noticing (by putting them in camera bags and other containers and then pawning them). So-Mi's mother is also an addict, so she finds herself without a parent to look after her. Tae-Sik doesn't want to, but he can't help but become enamored with this energetic young girl. Think of this as an Asian cinema version of 'Man on Fire'.
So-Mi's mother gets in trouble with the cartel and they come looking for her. They kidnap her and So-Mi. Tae-Sik has a past. He was once a government agent, but after a brutal car accident involving his pregnant wife, he's given it all up. That doesn't mean the guy doesn't know how to handle himself. With precision, Tae-Sik takes on numerous waves of drug cartel baddies and dispatches them with deadly efficiency. There's a knife fight towards the end that is, quite frankly, one of the best I've ever seen.
There's also a group of cops trying to track down the cartel, as they happen across the backstory of Tae-Sik. We get flashbacks of who he used to be and what he used to do. The flashbacks are helpful to the story, but also shed light on why Tae-Sik is the way he is. At first he didn't want to become attached to So-Mi. After the hurt of losing his wife and unborn child, getting close to anyone just seemed like too much. Maybe it was the guilt he felt after watching his wife get run down, or maybe at that very moment he decided to change his outlook on life. Whatever happened doesn't really matter, all that matters is that Tae-Sik goes on a Denzel-like rampage though the criminal underworld uncovering much more than just drugs.
'The Man From Nowhere' is a compelling film with some intensely visceral moments. It's violence is matched by the love and compassion Tae-Sik feels for So-Mi. This isn't like 'I Saw the Devil' where violence just builds upon itself seemingly without purpose until it all becomes too much to bear.
My only complaint about the film, and many Asian films for that matter, is the slapsticky character that seems inserted intothe story. Here it's one of the cops who, with his oddball nature and ridiculous actions, takes you directly out of the suspense the movie has created. Every time he appears on screen the movie screeches to a grinding halt as we are forced to watch him overreact to everything happening around him. See, even the mention of him brought this review to a dead stop.
I really enjoyed 'The Man From Nowhere'. It's very similar to 'Man on Fire', but adds a more sentimental aspect to the main character that Denzel's character never really had.
Fans of the film will be pleased to learn that 'The Man From Nowhere' looks relatively noteworthy on Blu-ray. Presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the 1080p image here is given an AVC encode.
This is a darkly cast film, with shadows and dimly lit interiors. Have no fear though, because crushing never rears its ugly head. Instead 'The Man From Nowhere's image, even in the blackest of blacks, appears free from any noise or artifacting. Shadows are precisely delineated, giving the darker scenes depth and dimensionality. Facial details such as fine facial hair, are crystal clear. Colors are strong, even though the palette of the film features the same icy Teal overlay that we've come to expect from these types of action films. Tae-Sik's dreamlike sequences offer a softer approach, but also strip away the teal overcast and feature some truly bold and moving colors. Those are by far the best looking and engaging scenes in the movie. Clarity is sharp, edges are intricately defined.
Altogether, this is a rather stunning video presentation.
'The Man From Nowhere' punches and kicks its way onto Blu-ray with a raucous lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that features both the original Korean track, or an English dubbed track.
Dialogue is presented cleanly through the front and center channels, with directionality working its magic whenever a character appears off screen. The grand knife fight features some wonderful pans and directional sound, but I still don't understand how knives make that “Shiiiink!” sound when flying through the air. Surrounds are alive with action whether it be a martial arts battle with bad guys closing in from every direction or a thumping club scene where people are jumping up and down to the bass beat. Speaking of bass, the LFE here is a low, rumbling affair that adds a lot to the overall soundscape. There are a couple different club scenes that really blast forth with low-end sonics. The LFE that impressed me most was (Spoiler Warning!) when the garbage truck slammed into Tae-Sik's car while his wife was sitting in it. It's a jarring scene and the audio presentation makes it that much more real.
Truthfully, I only listened to a bit of the English dubbed version and just couldn't stand it. Not because the mix was bad, just because I hate English dubs on pretty much any foreign movie. Go with the Korean version and you won't be sorry.
'The Man from Nowhere' is an action packed thrill ride that can be aptly described as a Korean version of 'Man on Fire.' It's got the same basic setup, and plot, but Bin Won is a terrifyingly good martial artist, making some of the fight scenes amazing to behold. It isn't just fight scenes that sell this movie though. It's directed well, and there's feeling and emotion present between Tae-Sik and So-Mi. There's real drama here. The movie doesn't just sit back and hope you gawk at the fight scenes. It's truly invested in these characters, and that's what makes it likable. With strong video and audio presentations 'The Man from Nowhere' comes recommended for anyone looking for a great piece of Asian cinema.