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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.07.10] movie review news action thriller

Year: 2010
Director: Lee Jeong-beom
Writer: Lee Jeong-beom
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

The rush line outside of the theatre an hour before the Canadian premiere of Lee Jeong-beom’s The Man from Nowhere (Ajusshi) suggested that this was a film with buzz. From the opening scene it was clear why the line: adoring fans of the handsome Won Bin (making his transition into leading role and doing so in memorably style), many of whom let out an audible sigh the first time he appeared on screen, peeking from behind a mess of long dark hair. It would be a good hour before we heard the sighs again but by the second round of girls exhaling in unison, I could see the appeal.

Jeong-beom’s thriller doesn’t really tread any new ground. Cha Tae-Shik (Won Bin) is a mysterious figure. He’s quiet, a loner, a pawnshop operator and reluctant friend to his neighbour’s daughter So-Mi. When the neighbour, a sleazy dancer who neglects her daughter, steals some drugs from some thugs, she drags herself, her daughter and by default Tae-Shik (who feels responsible for the young girl) into a mess of drug and organ trading gangsters along with a group of cops who are also on the hunt for the drug traders.

Writer director Jeong-beom might be borrowing heavily from other films (everything from Oldboy to The Professional come mind), but he builds a film that’s still feels original and is hard not to like. Tae-Shik is a sensitive man with a dark past who, from the moment you see him, is clearly much more dangerous than he appears. His tender relationship with So-Mi is charming, sweet and beautifully grown so that when So-Mi disappears, there’s no question that Tae-Shik will follow. Along for the ride are two of the most ridiculously awesome gangsters I’ve ever had the joy to watch on screen (they’re whiny, childish and brutally violent), they’re trusty henchman in brown leather whose single look is enough to make you run the other way (even if he is introduced as a meek, useless character) a ragtag group of cops who aren’t afraid to bend the rules to get the bad guy and a drug lord who reminisces about the days of military dictatorship.

Jeong-beom continues what I have come to see as a tradition of modern South Korean films, mixing comedy, drama and action into an enjoyable, high-octane thriller with more than a handful of memorable scenes. The cat and mouse chase is occasionally peppered with emotional depth which would typically drown films but which, for the most part, work here. The film works itself up to a showdown between Tae-Shik and a roomful of killers which he dispatches with blinding quickness in a dance of deadly beauty. Keeping things fresh, Jeong-beom inter cuts between wide shots and Tae-Shik point of view, dropping the audience into the middle of the action while never disorienting us enough to wonder what just happened.

The film’s single misstep comes in the closing 10 minutes which stretch from an acceptably sappy reunion (the entire film is peppered with moments like this one) between Tae-Shik and the young So-Mi and then loses steam as that reunion is extended into a completely unnecessary glossy happy ending. And yet, despite the faulty ending, The Man from Nowhere still serves up the action and gleeful violence we know and love. This may not be on the level of Oldboy but it’s a worthy contemporary and one I’ll happily see again.

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