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The Man from Nowhere

The Man from Nowhere, 2010

Another rewatch.

Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin) is a reclusive pawnshop owner who has a tentative friendship with a little girl, So-mi (Sae-Ron Kim), who lives in an apartment above his with her drug-addicted mother. When So-mi's mother steals drugs from a ruthless gang, So-mi and Cha end up in the middle of a nasty feud between rival drug dealers and the police.

I watch this movie quite a lot, actually, but I always watch the last hour or so (for those who have seen it, I usually start watching at the nightclub scene). I had totally forgotten about many sequences from the first hour.

The only real criticism that I have of this film is that its narrative is built entirely on cliches: little girl in danger? Check. Man with mysterious and violent past? Check. Tragic backstory involving loved one? Check. Outrageous villains? Check. Bumbling "comic relief" detective? Check. Cynical chain-smoking detective? Check. Right-hand man to the villains? Check.

But it doesn't really bother me because so many aspects of the plot, even at its most cliched, are executed so well. Won Bin (and it blows my mind that within a year or so he also starred in Bong Joon-ho's Mother) is a solid anchor for both the emotional and the physical aspects of the story. He emotes as well or better than almost any other action lead I can think of, and he is also convincing in the various action sequences. Sae-Ron Kim is also really solid as So-mi, and it's a credit to the writing that she is a very likable child (with a palpable need for acknowledgement and affection), but manages not to trip into being too cutesy or feel like an adult writing for a child.

And the action sequences are really what keep me coming back to this film. Sometimes I come back to the movie just to watch certain fight scenes. The knife fight in the bathroom, the chase through the building that includes the shot where
WARNING: spoilers below
Cha jumps out a window and the camera follows him. I cannot get enough of this shot and often have to go back to watch it over and over.
. It's all well-choreographed but the sequences are distinct from each other so it doesn't just feel like the same action scene over and over.

The movie is graphically violent, and it does deal with some heavy topics like child labor and even organ harvesting. But while the movie can be bleak at times, for me personally it never crosses a line into wallowing or exploitation.

I still hugely prefer the second half, but I really enjoyed rewatching the entire film. It's on my shortlist of favorite action movies ever.