Cha Tae-sik is a man who just wants to be left alone. He runs a pawn shop by himself and lives alone and it is the way he likes things to be. There is a little girl named So-mi who just happens to be his neighbour and also lives a very solitary life. She has a mother who is a heroin addict and as such, finds herself left to her own devices more often than not. It is little wonder then that the two of them, So-mi and Cha Tae-sik find themselves drawn to each other, not really friends but merely existing within each other’s company. While their existence is hardly idyllic, things get a whole lot worse when So-mi’s mother is killed for stealing from a group of very dangerous criminals, men who make their money from a variety of ways including harvesting body parts. When So-mi gets kidnapped to work off her mother’s debt, Cha Tae-sik finds that motivation enough to get him out of his self-imposed exile and return to the land of the living to get her back at any cost.
While this film is hardly original and highly formulaic, it is exquisitely beautiful in every way – through all of the violence to the way it is filmed to the relationship that exists between the man and his neighbour So-mi and everything else involved. There is little new ground broken in this film as it harkens back to Charles Bronson in Death Wish with its revenge aspects and has been seen again in films such as Taken and John Wick that are incredibly similar in many ways. The plot of a man seeking justice, to get the loved one back or to avenge the loved one’s death, the one-man army has been seen many times and will be seen many more as long as film exists. Clichéd and formulaic though it may be, The Man From Nowhere is executed perfectly and is absolutely riveting from start to finish. In part, that might be due to writer and director Jeong-beom Lee for crafting such a solid thriller, but more than anything it is all down to the amazing performances of the cast, specifically Bin Won as Cha Tae-sik and Sae-ron Kim as So-mi.
Bin Won plays the part of the lone wolf exceptionally well with a deep intensity that is a little unnerving at times to watch. Where other actors ham it up and create the vigilante heroes as larger-than-life, unkillable machines, Bin’s character is flawed from scars that are deep and personal. He also incurs physical injuries that actually impact him and the job he has set out to do. He is no Terminator who can simply shrug off the damage done to him by his opponents, it takes its toll and it makes our hero seem real and vulnerable which is always an important thing to do so that the audience might associate with the character. Opposite Bin is Sae-ron Kim who has an indelible sense of innocence about her as So-mi even if she has seen more of life than many people do in their entire lives. Sae-ron gives this picture that one bright spot that it needs to keep it from being completely gloomy, as well as being that little bit of hope, that spark that Cha Tae-sik needs to keep him from completely spiralling down into darkness. Cha Tae-sik seems to realize that as well, which is why he does what he does. It is not only for the fact that what Jong-seok and Man-seok are doing is wrong and that much of it involves children, Cha Tae-sik is out to rescue So-mi yes, but he is also out to rescue himself.
Jeong-beom Lee’s The Man From Nowhere is really quite the excellent film. The action scenes are dazzling when they happen but are never over the top, there is no gore just for gore’s sake, instead only appearing in the film when needed and it is never overdone. There is little cursing and little nudity and overall, is just a really well-done, solid crime-thriller that manages to tell its story in a very straightforward manner. It might seem familiar at times and that is to be expected, but with a great script, steady direction and impeccable performances, The Man From Nowhere is one of the better films you will ever see from the genre.