WTF ASIA 48: The Man from Nowhere (2010)
By complete coincidence (I swear), the last few movies featured girls in somewhat violent situations. Well, here is a normal and straightforward movie about a girl who getsÂ kidnapped by gangsters,Â sendingÂ her mysterious next door neighbor into an action-packed trek throughÂ a crime-ridden city.
For free onÂ Hulu.
The movie starts out with a sting operation that goes wrong. The police are trying to catch a gangster during a drug deal at a nightclub. They catch him, but the actual deal did not go through, so they will have to let him go the next morning. None of them realize it yet, but one of the nightclub dancers stole the drugs.
The dancer, Hyo-jeong, hides the drugs in a camera bag and drops it off with the pawnshop owner who lives next door to her. Well, most of the drugs, anyways; she is going to shoot up a little of it later on. She threatens the owner with castration if he goes near her nine-year-old daughter, but then starts flirting with him. Yeah, she is a character.
Of course, the girl, So-mi, has taken a shine to the owner, perhaps seeing him as the father figure whom she never had, the only person who is halfway nice to her, even if he is completely distant and looks like he probably has been to prison. Living with her mother and the type of scumbags she deals with has turned So-mi into a bit of a troubled child with a penchant for stealing, and maybe the pawnshop owner is as close to something stable that she can find. The pawnshop owner has closed himself off to the world, still in mourning over a woman who has died a few years ago. Yet, So-mi has sort of managed to break through to him, even though he does not really show it. But when he ignores her when she gets in trouble for stealing, she is heartbroken, her worthlessness confirmed.
So-mi arrives home to find a man putting a hairdryer to her motherâ€™s leg. The pawnshop owner arrives home to find that a couple of thugs have broken into his shop. He beats one of them down (the one from the failed sting), but another one takes his place, a Thai man who speaks only English for some reason. The pawnshop owner is ordered by phone to give them Hyo-jeongâ€™s camera bag. When the pawnshop owner refuses, he hears So-mi shouting on the other end. The gangster threatens to kill both her and her mother if they donâ€™t get the camera bag. He gives it up and they find the drugs. The Thai gangster shoots his beaten colleague, puts a cellphone on the table, and leaves. The pawnshop owner runs after them, only to see So-mi being driven away. He tries calling the cops, but they start insulting him when he declines to give his own address. If he wants to see her again, he will have to do more than return their drugs.
There is something to be said about a movie that is simply well-done and effective. It is an action movie, with a good amount of gunplay, knife fights, chase scenes, and hand-to-hand combat. Almost nothing in this movie is new or innovative, particularly when compared with the Korean serial killer movie I Saw The Devil, which came out a week later. If the description above reminds you of at least two Luc Besson movies, you are not entirely wrong. Yet, despite the clichÃ©s and somewhat predictable plot twists there was something about this movie that kept me so much more invested in it than I was with I Saw The Devil, which lost me around the time that I realized what the particular character twist was.Â When watching The Man From Nowhere,Â there were so many times that I could tell myself that something was cheesy or nonsensical or unimaginative or emotionally manipulated, but it did not matter. The movie overcomes all of its flaws by the sheer force of it being just that good.
Also, check out thisÂ jump out of the window. Pretty sweet, right?
When they want to, Korean moviemakers can be pretty good at bringing out extreme emotions from audiences. Anger, horror, sadness, joy. A lot of the times, however, this is done through manipulation that a jaded person can see through. In this movie, however, I think that it is the sincerity and the purity of its sincerity that blots out any cynical discussion of unoriginality. There is no winking to the camera. This is a movie with a lot of heart. It is so much easier to surrender to the heart than it is to maintain the aloofness that it takes to point out the problems in this movie. So why bother being bothered?
The Korean title for the movie is Ajeossi, which translates roughly as Mister, Uncle, or Older Man. The pawnshop owner (the movie reveals his name over a third of the way through, but the people at the crux of the story never use his name, referring to him as just â€œhimâ€ or â€œpawnshopâ€ is hardly that much older than most of the main characters except for So-mi, who refers to him as that. That already suggests that the movie is about him through her eyes, even though the movie eventually reveals things about him that she doesnâ€™t know about, and probably never will. The (very misleading) poster plays up their relationship as father and daughter, a bond that was formed not by blood, but by shared loneliness. The movie turns this thieving little girl into an extremely sympathetic character simply through her situation and her emotional sincerity. The movie also turns the pawnshop owner into a sympathetic character through some backstory that may have been unnecessary and manipulative, but works nevertheless. So when she is kidnapped, it makes perfect sense that he will do anything to rescue her. He has no actual obligation to save her, but he needs to. And I needed to see him succeed.
As a sidenote, I did not actually realize it the first time around, but the movie made pretty good use of the fact that guns are quite rare in South Korea. Sure, the police had guns, but very few others. This made it pretty important when certain characters get guns, show guns, or use them on others. It had more weight than in American movies where anyone could have a gun or in an Asian movie where anyone unrealistically could have a gun. This also justified the use of martial arts and knives, which are much more readily available. Also, the behind the scenes special implies that at least one of the knives used in a fight was real when it accidentally flew out of the shot and got stuck in a wall on the other side of the room, not too far from a couple of the crewmembers.
If you want something new or different or out there, then The Man from Nowhere is probably not for you. If you want a movie that sucks you in and takes you on a ride, then this just might be for you. Put your genre savvy cynicism to the side for two hours and strap in.