If you are looking for a ticking time bomb of an action-thriller film that will get your insides in a proverbial twist, then this is the film for you!
The Man From Nowhere, released in South Korea as Ajeossi, is a story about a simple, yet mysterious pawn shop owner from China (played by Korean actor Bon Win known also for Mother (not the American horror film) and Tae Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War) who befriends a young 10 year old girl that lives in his building with her drug-addicted mother who abuses and neglects her.
The little girl’s name is Somi (played by Sae-ron Kim also known for A Girl at my Door and A Brand New Life) who gives a heartbreaking performance as the practically homeless Somi, and she is so sweet, you can not imagine anyone ever mistreating this child, and that is the very element of her character that allows Bon Win’s Cha Tae-sik to reluctantly look out for her from time to time.
Their dynamic reminds me a lot of Luc Besson’s characters from the 1994 film Leon: The Professional, but unlike Jean Reno’s assassin that has some humorous moments trying to cheer up Natalie Portman’s orphaned little girl, Tae-sik NEVER loses his intensity.
The character design of Tae-sik seems ripped from a dark anime with his tall, thin build and black hair half covering his face, but with every movement onscreen you can tell there is a lethal past to this ominously quiet figure.
And yes the base storyline in this film seems like something you have seen before, and the action is slow until the end, but the story builds strong, and the director Jeong-beom Lee, weaves a tale of drug and child trafficking coupled with illegal organ trafficking that will make you bloodthirsty, and if you are a pacifist even question your stance in life, for the villains to get their just desserts in the end.
Fiction comes from the fact, and just as an added note, Bon Win is a UNICEF representative for kids in South Korea, which explains him being drawn to this immensely strong script.
I have been very happy to find over the years that Asian cinema is not all martial arts related, and giant monsters, even though I love both of those, but, minus the giant monsters, The Man From Nowhere sets up all the characters in the first half of the film, and gets you salivating for more before going ‘John Wick’ the second half of the movie.
There is the cliché-ick revelation by the brother villains Man-seok and Jong-seok (played by Hee-wong Kim, known for The Merciless and Woochi, and Seong-oh Kim of Secret Garden and Fighter in the Wind) that their mysterious, pawnshop adversary is a former Chinese military commando, government agent, and assassin with a painful past.
Tae-sik’s first encounter with the baddies henchmen is quite humorous when he relieves one henchman of his knife with such blinding speed you almost miss it, and the next henchman of consciousness that the filmmaker disappointingly does not let the viewer witness but only the aftermath of the remaining assailants very reluctant to engage the hero further.
That scene in and of itself and the shock of the bad guy’s faces upon realizing they may be biting off more than they can chew will make you stick around to until the end.
The story leads that Somi’s mother is both a prostitute, and drug runner for the evil brothers, and when they use her as a hapless murder victim to frame Tae-sik, and kidnap Somi to use in their child drug mule scams, that a wounded and angry Tae-sik seeks the aid of a former military contact to get his head on straight.
If he is going to be able to track down Somi and her abductors before something worse than what happened to her mother befalls her, Tae-sik has to focus and find the man he once was before the tragedy that made him the shadow of a man he is now.
The Korean police detectives, Park and Kim, are, of course, one step behind yet always in the way (played by Do-wong Jeong of Dynamite Man and Do-wan Kwak of The Wailing) and are constantly picking up the pieces left behind by the determined Tae-sik who begins to cut a swath through the Korean underworld as wide as the Nakdong river.
The one element in the story that drifts just outside the villain’s organization, but seems to see the doom to come by Tae-sik’s hand is the villains lead henchman Ramrowan (played by Thai actor Thanayong Wongtrakul of Curse of the Sun and Lupin the 3rd).
The moviegoer can tell right away he will be the climatic adversary at the end of the film, but you grow to like his stoic character, as his heart seems to not be completely made of stone when it comes to the kidnapped children they use to traffic drugs.
His recognition of Tae-sik’s skills come from their first encounter when Ramrowan executes someone in front of Tae-sik with a handgun, and the favorite quote is Ramrowan recounting the image of Tae-sik’s face when the gun was fired.
“He never flinched,” said Ramrowan.
“He never flinched when I fired the gun?!”
This scene makes me smile every time I think of it, but it sets the tone for the rest of the film.
The martial arts action is smooth, precise and practical to the story, and even though Bon Win sports a black belt in tae kwon do, the kicks are few, but his character Tae-sik strikes like a cobra when the action explodes.
The final confrontation is worth the wait, and the fight choreographer spins an amazing knife fight sequence with a very unusual tactic if you can spot it for avoiding taking a knife thrust to the throat in a clinch.
I am dying to spoil one part of the film that had me in knots saying “Please No!” out loud at the Will Rogers International Airport in Oklahoma City while I watched this film…
…but I’ll let you watch for yourself.
On a five kick scale, I definitely give this film four solid kicks! Slick, cool and lethal The Man From Nowhere will take you somewhere you pray does not really exist.
Review by Scott Davis
(Resident of Winston-Salem, NC has studied the martial arts since the age of ten, and at 48 years of age is still an avid practitioner. A fan of the martial arts and action genre films from an early age when everyone else watched football on Saturdays, he tuned in to Black Belt feature.)