Possessing some seriously similar attributes to several other international hits from yesteryear, The Man From Nowhere borrows heavily from Luc Besson’s Leon: The Professional, Pierre Morel’s Taken, and Tony Scott’s Man On Fire, while embedding its own strictly-Korean elements. The story — which tells of a mysterious and mild-mannered pawn shop broker who goes on a solo suicide mission to rescue a little girl from the neighborhood when she and her mother are abducted by some ruthless gangsters — was South Korea’s highest-grossing hit of 2010, and has found its way to American shores via distributor Well Go USA.
We begin with a long-haired guy named Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin), who owns a pawn shop and is extremely quiet. One local rumor has it he used to be a gangster, while the stripper/junkie mother next door has told her daughter, So-Mi (Kim Sae-ron), that he’s a child molester. This doesn’t stop the girl from trying to befriend the feller, though; she brings in freshly-stolen goods in every day in an attempt to prevent from starving. She also just wants to get to know the stranger, as the poor thing doesn’t have a daddy.
Into every life, a little rain must fall. So-Mi’s life gets a real mutha of a tsunami when her mum takes off with some drugs, to wit she’s abducted by two scumbag siblings who work for a big-time gangster — and who happen to be tied in with the illegal world of human organ trafficking. And so, So-Mi’s poorly-qualified matriarch figure goes bye-bye; her innards sold to the highest bidder. The thugs also snatch So-Mi herself, intending to harvest her eyes in the near-future. Cha Tae-sik has other plans, however — and, seeing as how he’s a former one-man army for the government, the baddies of the film soon discover that they shouldn’t fuck with The Man From Nowhere.
Despite the fact that the film is assembled from many other cinematic endeavors, The Man From Nowhere manages to stand on its own quite well. The action scenes are extremely well done, and the movie features some of the most memorable knife fights in recent memory. Story-wise, The Man From Nowhere seems a bit convoluted at times: we know where the tale is going pretty much from the get-go, but it takes far too long to actually get itself going, in my opinion. On the “delivering-your-lines-in-front-of-the-camera-thing” end of the spectrum, writer/director Lee Jeong-beom’s actors turn in surprisingly-good performances, whether they be downright odd characters, or out-and-out evil bastards.
Well Go USA’s Blu-ray release of The Man From Nowhere (aka Ajeossi) stands out from my previous High-Def run-in from the same company. The 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer here is a real beauty, imbibing a very dark overtone throughout (it’s a crime drama after all, kids) but with some rich colors nevertheless. Contrast and black levels rarely disappoint here, and the amount of detail this release has been given is commendable.
In terms of audio, The Man From Nowhere has several options going for it. There’s your choice between the much-superior, original Korean-language track (in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or Dolby Digital 2.0) or the rather unimpressive and poorly-made English-dubbed audio (also available in either DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 or DD 2.0). While both 5.1 tracks deliver the goods for your stereo setup, the Korean emerges as the definitive mix, especially once you hear the twentysomething actress they brought in to dub the lines of the nine-year-old heroine (!). Optional English subtitles are included with the 25GB disc.
The biggest disappointment with Well Go USA’s release of The Man From Nowhere lies in the illustrious special features department. A Standard-Def seventeen-minute behind-the-scenes featurette is divided up into four chapters. A five-minute highlight reel gives us an eviscerated version of the film for people with extremely short attention spans, and proves to be one of the most pointless bonus features I’ve seen in a long time. Two trailers for the film — one a teaser, one a theatrical — are also included with the release, as are previews for other Well Go USA titles that are tacked onto the beginning of the disc.
In short, Lee Jeong-beom’s The Man From Nowhere is an enjoyable (if drawn-out) crime drama from South Korea. Worth a look.