There are things inherently pleasurable to watch in movies, no matter how many countless times you see them. The story of a lone underestimated underdog working his way through a sizable portion of the criminal population is one of those things. The latest film to follow this ever dependable formula is the Korean movie The Man From Nowhere, a hard edged lean thriller that’s probably my favorite film to come out of the Korean since A Bittersweet Life.
While The Man From Nowhere doesn’t quite reach the crazed melodramatic heights of suffering and madness that one associates with The Korean New Wave (Seriously Euripedes saw Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and was like “Damn man lighten up.” Thank you five people who got that joke.) Though it is perhaps telling about the movement that a film that features organ harvested from people while they were still alive can qualify as “low key”. Instead it operates on a much more Western friendly level of intensity.
Indeed The Man From Nowhere resembles nothing so much as a Korean Man On Fire. A quiet loner with a dark secret in his past runs a pawn shop and forms a reluctant attachment with an adorable moppet. After said moppet’s mother runs afoul of heroin dealing, organ selling, puppy eating Gangsters (Puppy eating not confirmed) they kidnap the moppet for collateral. The heretofore mild mannered pawn shop owner rouses himself, comes to terms with his dark past (Spoiler Alert: It involves killing a lot of people. Also tragedy. It’s Korea.) in order to cut a bloody swatch through nearly every low life in Korea. Leaving them to bleed out from their severed wrists as they rethink the recent actions of their soon to be over lives.
These types of films work with the merciless efficiency of pistons. First by setting up the seemingly invulnerable, incalculably evil villains and then watching said villains pale before the hero’s righteous fury. As the hero’s righteous rampage begins and they realize they have fucked with the one person they should never under any circumstances have fucked with. As said it has been done about a billion times before. But like The Goldberg Variations the point is not the music but how the music is played. With its simultaneously gritty and stylized atmosphere, kinetic plotting, genuine emotional involvement of its cast, not to mention some brutal but badass fight scenes, The Man From Nowhere might tread familiar ground, but it does so with confidence.
The film was overshadowed on its initial release by the fully demented I Saw The Devil. But it’s worth seeking out. What it lacks in novelty it more than makes up for in satisfaction.