As I said before, I quite enjoyed last week’s running theme, and it got some encouraging responses from you lot. So with that in mind I’m going to rush headlong into another one. Anyone else fancy a South Korean action movie week?
He’s actually from South Korea
A Seoul-based drug gang who use orphans as mules take the young daughter of a woman who stole from them. The girl’s only friend is her neighbour who runs a pawnshop. Luckily for her, he’s also former Special Forces. Hilarity ensues.
South Korea’s highest-grossing film of 2010 is another example of what that nation seems to do better than any other: violent revenge movies. While not as revolutionary as the films of Park Chan-wook, to name but one, it is still a fine example of the art. Won Bin (the son in 2009’s Mother) stars as Cha Tae-sik, the pawnshop owner who withdrew from the world after the death of his pregnant wife. The character is more of an archetype than anything else but Won manages to bring some real emotion and motivation to the part, to the point where you find yourself completely invested in his quest for vengeance. Kim Sae-ron plays the ten-year-old So-mi, the youngster who hides out in Cha’s shop when her smackhead mother has sexy-time visitors. In just her second film, Sae-ron is a revelation in the part. Not once does she even come close to the precociousness often seen in child actors in the West. She carries a lot of the drama on her narrow shoulders, and doesn’t miss a step. There is one speech in particular that she gives to Cha shortly before her disappearance, and after that you can understand why he would kill literally everyone to get her back.
The hero in movies like this is only half the story; you need a good bad guy to set him up against. Here you get three. The drug gang is led by brothers Man-seok and Jong-seok. Man-seok is the brains of the two (although that’s not saying much) while Jong-seok is the flashy, impulsive one, very fond of his Dolce and Gabbana. They are backed-up by their head enforcer Ramworan, a Thai import noted for his viciousness and probably the smartest one in the whole organisation – the brothers included. Thanayong Wongtrakul is excellent as Ramworan, doing a lot with not much dialogue.
Plot-wise, The Man From Nowhere is really nothing new. If you’ve seen Taken or either version of Man On Fire for example, you’ll know what to expect. What writer/director Lee Jeong-beom brings to this old chestnut though is style. Bucketfuls of style, to go along with the bucketfuls of blood. Korean flicks aren’t known to skimp on the red stuff and this is no exception. The action sequences are executed with considerable élan; Cha’s final offensive against the brothers’ being a great example. It starts off similar to a hundred other identical scenes, with a man walking into an ornate white room full of bad guys. What happens after that is expertly choreographed wholesale slaughter. The camera never sits still but it doesn’t whizz around just for the sake of it either. Lee uses the camera as another participant in the action, and the climactic one-on-one knife fight between Cha and Ramworan is a virtuoso piece of work shot in tight close-up (even with some POV camerawork) and blisteringly fast movements by the actors. It comfortably knocks John Matrix versus Bennett into second place on my Favourite Movie Knife Fights list.
At two hours long, the movie does take its time to get going; there is a lot of character stuff crammed into the first act. If you’re not familiar, this is fairly standard for Korean movies but some of the more impatient Western audiences may have a little trouble settling into the film’s rhythm. If you fall into this group don’t worry, Shawn Christensen – writer of Abduction, one of the worst films of 2011 – has been hired to draft the remake for Dimension Films. Frankly, I don’t know why they’re bothering. Stick with the original. It’s worth the effort.