CRIMEWATCH: The Man From Nowhere
Korea is the new Hong Kong. Not geographically as that would take a trick of Copperfield-ean proportions but when it comes to making kick ass action movies, Korea is the place to be. For decades HK Cinema had held the crown pretty much unopposed and with good reason. This was, after all, the place that had given us Shaw Brothers Studios, Golden Harvest, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, John Woo, well the list is pretty much endless and it had done so without anyone really challenging the throne. That is until now.
During the “boom years” of HK Cinema from the late 80’s and early 90’s, these films were being seen more and more by a worldwide audience (hell,I can remember the first time I ever saw Jackie Chan laying the smackdown on bad guys in Wheels On Meals on late-night Channel 4) and these new converts to this fast-paced, jaw-dropping style have now grown up and are in positions where they can take make their own movies, and make them they have. Where HK Cinema seems to have become stale of late, for every Ip Man there is a Choy Lee Fut, Korean Cinema appears to be growing in strength to the point where even their remakes give the original versions a run for their money. Don’t believe me? Get yourself a copy of A Better Tomorrow and watch it back to back with John Woo’s original. Like I said, Korean Cinema is the place to be.
All of which leads me to The Man From Nowhere which I personally consider the best Korean film made to date. Released in 2010, The Man From Nowhere unites Writer/Director Lee Jeong-Beom with Leading Actor Won Bin in the tale of one man’s murderous rampage as he attempts to rescue his neighbour’s daughter from a gang of criminals the child’s mother has stolen from. At first the gang, who are into every nasty piece of criminal enterprise you could possibly imagine, see Won Bin’s character as nothing more than a Pawn Shop owner but as the movie progresses we learn (via the local Gendarme) that all is not as it seems. From the first moment Won Bin runs into the bad guys turning over his Pawn Shop to the last seconds of the main villian’s life this movie just kicks mucho ass, but never to the detriment of the story. That is never an easy task but one that Lee Jeong-Beom manages to pull off quite brilliantly, constantly reminding you that the young girl Won Bin is searching for is probably going to end up having her organs harvested and her eyes plucked out before he gets a chance to save her.
Taking into consideration that this was only Lee Jeong-Beom’s second time in the director’s chair (he had previously written and directed the 2006 movie Cruel Winter Blues) and what could’ve been a plot device so sugary sweet that it would’ve given Steven Spielberg diabetes, is turned into a strong, powerful undercurrent that drives at the heart of this film. You actually care if she lives or dies. This is also in no small part to the relationship between Won Bin’s character and the young girl played by Kim Sae-Ron.
Every movie needs at least one pivotal relationship and the casting of these roles will usually make or break any film, add into the mix that one of the main characters is a young child and you’re just asking for trouble (Home Alone anyone?). The fact that The Man From Nowhere never suffers from any Macaulay Culkin-esque moments of horrendous ham acting is testament to how talented Kim Sae-Ron is at such a young age and how much of a bright future she has ahead of her (check her out in the new Korean horror movie Neighbour that is due out this month). Which leads me finally to the main man himself, Won Bin. I’d never heard of him before I saw this film but that isn’t really that surprising considering that all he had done by that point was some television work and four feature films, one of which was a comedy, two of which were dramas and there was also a war film thrown in for good measure, but I think I can safely say without having watched any of his previous work that The Man From Nowhere is by far the best thing he’s ever done. His acting is top notch and he kicks ass with the best of them (no doubt helped by being a black-belt in Taekwondo) and even though this was his first dalliance into the world of action films I sure hope it won’t be his last. Top notch acting, great directing and brutal fight choreography, The Man From Nowhere is, in my opinion, worth 2 hours of anyone’s life and is a stark warning to HK Cinema that the title is up for grabs.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know it sounds like I’m nailing the lid down on the coffin but HK Cinema isn’t dead, far from it, and not every movie that Korea puts out is going to be of the high standards of The Man From Nowhere but Korean cinema is still young and fresh enough to a western audience that we can forgive the occasional turkey more easily than we can forgive HK Cinema for walking the same old ground, but this can only be a good thing, right? Surely they’ll start being a bit more strict on the films that are released under their banner and we’ll get a better quality of arse-whupping. Maybe we’re to blame as well, after all we’ve been pretty spoiled when it comes to HK action, that maybe we’ve started taking it for granted. Only time will tell, but if you find yourself tired of trawling through the same rehashed ideas or if you’re just looking for something a little bit fresher you could do a lot worse than checking out some Korean Cinema and at the top of that list has to be The Man From Nowhere.