Long before John Wick restored action films to their former glory in the West, The Man from Nowhere [Korean title: Ajeossi, which translates to “Mister”] was taking South Korea by storm. It became the country’s multi-awarded blockbuster in 2010, and a sensation among action thriller fans around the world.
Following in the gory footsteps of other acclaimed productions of the decade, such as Oldboy, Bedevilled and I saw The Devil, Lee Jung-beom [Cruel Winter Blues] writes and directs an ode to revenge, enhanced by pure emotions and bleak colours.
Apathetic, yet fascinatingly intense, pawnshop owner Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin) lives a quiet life in a rundown building in Seoul. His only companion is a 10-year-old girl called So-mi (Kim Sae-ron), who often visits him to escape her violent home. When So-mi’s addicted mother steals from a local gang, the wheels are set in motion, and Cha Tae-sik transforms into a vengeful guardian angel set to save his young friend – come hell or high water.
And trust me, both shall come.
By taking the law into his own hands, the protagonist unravels the yarn of his own dark past. During the erupting gang war, the police is kindly invited to watch. Beautifully choreographed fight scenes will keep you on edge throughout his two-hour-long journey, through rampant destruction and anger to catharsis. Park Jung-ryul’s complimentary visual effects are mesmerising, while Lee Tae-yoon’s cinematography turns the otherwise straightforward plot into a masterpiece of flowing action, deliberate pauses and seamless acting.
Reminiscent of Luc Besson’s The Professional, Won Bin’s touching performance when sharing screen time with talented Kim Sae-ron is proof that beyond his inimitably handsome looks, he deserves the title of an exceptionally multifaceted actor. Sadly, he decided to quit a bit too early (see Bong Joon-ho’s thriller Mother). The supporting actors deliver their parts in equally impressive and diverse ways, creating a compelling must-see that you cannot overlook in this lifetime.