2004's MAN ON FIRE and 2008's TAKEN is given a South Korean makeover with the country's one of the most anticipated movie events of the year, THE MAN FROM NOWHERE. On the surface, this kind of brutal revenge thriller is nothing new at all but clever marketing gimmick (promoted as Won Bin's star vehicle in his much-anticipated showcase as a "masculine" action star; and of course director Lee Jeong-Beom's brilliant exploitation of using the ever-popular Hollywood template of the aforementioned) has propelled this movie straight to No.1 South Korean box-office hit of 2010 with a healthy 6.2 million won ever since its theatrical release in August 4. As good as the movie sounds, THE MAN FROM NOWHERE is decidedly a mixed result -- an overlong revenge thriller that bogged down by its heavy-handed executions.
Won Bin stars as Tae-Sik, a former government assassin who is now laying low as a pawnshop owner in a rundown building. He's been relatively leading a quiet and secluded life that his only remaining contact is little but lovely rascal named So-Mi (Kim Sae-Ron), who often seeks shelter at his pawnshop to avoid the sight of her drug-addicted mother Hyo-Jeong (Kim Hyo-Seo). Problem arises when her mother made a big mistake by stealing the mob's pack of heroin in a nightclub she's been working there. Apparently Hyo-Jeong also happens to pawn off a camera to Tae-Sik, which contained that pack of heroin. Because of this, a group of angry mob in which the heroin belongs to two sadistic brothers named Man-Sik (Kim Hee-Woon) and Jong-Suk (Kim Sung-Oh), immediately come looking for her and at the same time wanted to retrieve the pack of heroin as well. Nevertheless Hyo-Jeong ends up dead in a gruesome fashion, while So-Mi is held captive. In the end, Tae-Sik has no choice but to resort his violent old ways to save her. Along the process, Detective Kim Chi-Gon (Kim Tae-Hun) is hot on the trail to bring down the mob as well as trying to figure out the secret identity behind the mysterious Tae-Sik as well.
At nearly two-hour long, the movies tries hard to cover as many territory as possible. It's not that being meaty is a crime except that director Lee Jeong-Beom doesn't know the little word called "restraint". Perhaps the biggest mistake here is the director has added too many subplots for its own good. Side stories that includes the disturbing nature of human trafficking, bleak outlook of the drugs underworld and so on, are more of a distracting filler that drags the momentum. Had the movie focuses on a single goal, which is Tae-Sik goes on saving the kid, it would have been an exhilarating rollercoaster ride all along.
Still the action remain one of the highlights of this movie. Among them are of course involving close-combat battle between Tae-Sik and a vicious bodyguard named Ramrowan (Thailand actor Thanayong Wongtrakul) -- first at the nightclub bathroom, and of course the memorably violent knife duel in the bad guy's lair. Too bad most of the action doesn't sustain long enough for a satisfying period of time, which are quite frustrating considered the amount of the running time given here.
Cast-wise, Won Bin may have looked too young to portray the seen-it-all, ex-government assassin but he make terrific use of his vacant eyes and well-toned muscular look to deliver a convincing presence nonetheless (except in the first third of the movie where he sports that hideous-looking emo haircut). The rest of the supporting actors are equally credible, if nothing much to shout about here.
Not the best revenge thriller by all means, but THE MAN FROM NOWHERE remains a satisfying piece of action cinema.