Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Man from Nowhere

Wow, check it out: I ordered a Blu-ray, received it, watched it, and reviewed it. All (except the ordering) within a 24-hour period. This almost never happens. But, I was excited to see this one; I'd started seeing advertisements for it a couple months ago and saw that it featured the son from Mother and the little girl from A Brand New Life, and that's more than enough to get my interest.

It's a pretty darn good movie, although not one for those used to sanitized action. It was given an R rating during its brief US release, and earns it with the sort of violence that you don't necessarily see in today's action movies, which even if they aren't looking toward the PG-13 rating still seem to see the really gruesome violence as the domain of horror movies. Even in R-rated movies, the violence has to be somewhat clean and escapist, whereas in this one, I found myself often looking away.

(Note - more details than you may want in the next paragraph; skip down to remain un-spoiled/un-grossed-out!)

That's not entirely a bad thing, even it does seem in part to be because the jolt needed to shock the audience is greater these days. If we want to really show that a loved one dying messed our main character up, it's not enough for her to be run down by a car - she's got to be pregnant, and crushed, and her husband has to see an awful red liquid that looks even worse than blood flowing from the wreck. It's effective, sure; while a lesser moment might have just registered as a plot contrivance, this lets the audience feel just how badly it hits a person in a visceral way. But, man, I 've got to be honest - I winced the tiniest bit less than I did at That Awful Sound in Dream Home. I shudder to think that, as far as seeing it in movies is concerned, I may someday need worse trauma to have this reaction.

(Welcome back!)

I can't blame Lee Jeong-beom for going there; it ultimately works, even if some of the gross-out bits in the final action sequence are a bit too much. Just saying.

On a related note, Well Go USA's Blu-ray looked very nice, even if the chained bonus material seemed to be a bit odd, and not the greatest quality - I half suspect that the trailers for The Man from Nowhere in the supplements weren't even the resolution you'd find on a standard DVD (or at least, not an anamorphically-encoded one), which was quite strange, considering that the ones that played before the film looked pretty good.

And about those previews... Two were for Ip Man 2 and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen. The first one didn't play Boston, and I'd just like to use this platform which may or may not ever be noticed by the distributor to ask that they rectify this with Chen Zhen. Aside from how I want to see it on the big screen, it's worth mentioning that the China Lion-distributed films have done OK here, and even though this wouldn't be on the beat-the-pirates schedule, Donnie Yen is considered a local boy made good around here, with respected family in the area, and his films almost always a part of the Films at the Gate program in the fall. It always struck me as crazy that none of his movies since the Miramax issue of Iron Monkey really got any sort of play here. Fix that!

Ajeossi (The Man from Nowhere)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 8 March 2010 in Jay's Living Roonm (Blu-ray)

One thing that I've noticed from reviewing Korean movies is that action movies are fairly likely to have the same person credited as writing and directing, whereas in Hollywood (and elsewhere) there will be many more names in the credits. It's an admittedly biased sample, but it perhaps explains why movies like The Man from Nowhere, despite featuring familiar plots and character types, are both a bit sharper and a bit more self-indulgent than their American counterparts - there's no conflicting vision to tone things down. The end result is maybe a bit bloated and gross, but also undeniably thrilling.

It starts with cops staking out a Seoul strip club, waiting for some drugs and money to change hands. Nobody's plans are going well that night, though, as a dancer, Hyo-jeong (Kim Hyo-seo) intercepts the heroin and makes off with it. This leaves the police without anybody in custody and two groups of criminals very angry. Meanwhile, back at her apartment building, Hyo-jeong's daughter So-mi (Kim Sae-ron) is pestering their neighbor Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin). Things come to a head when the crooks track Hyo-jeong down and figure she's left the bag with the drugs in Tae-sik's pawnshop. Just taking it proves difficult, though, as Tae-sik rapidly disarms one thug, and their best man, Ramrowan (Thanayong Wongtrakul), notes that the pawnbroker doesn't flinch at gunshots. Still, they've got Hyo-jeong and So-mi as hostages, so Tae-sik has to play along... right?

In some ways, this is a little (maybe a lot) more complex than necessary. Eventually, writer/director Lee Jeong-beom does reduce this movie to "former assassin cuts bloody swath through underworld to save kid", but at various points the viewer has to keep two law enforcement agencies, two criminal organizations, some small-time crooks, and more straight, mostly in the beginning; at points, he seems to run out of character gimmicks for his crooks, repeating the well-dressed, vain gangster. He also raises the stakes well past showing the audience that these guys mean business - for instance brothers Man-seok (Kim Hee-won) and Jong-seok (Kim Seong-oh) don't just use kids in their business, they harvest organs! And it's not enough to show an occupied car getting pulverized, it's got to leak like a crushed can of tomato puree afterward. In both of those areas, filmmaker Lee could maybe have used another voice suggesting he dial it back.

Full review at EFC.

1 comment:

Denim said...

I just watched this movie and I must say it jumped to the top of my list. Stumbling upon these types on Netflix REALLY makes me weekend.