I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Man From Nowhere

tn_manfromnowhereTHE MAN FROM NOWHERE is a Korean crime picture that was Korea’s highest grossing movie in 2010 and is new to DVD here in North America. The region free male of the title is Cha Tae-Sik (Won Bin), a young handsome dude who runs a pawn shop. He lives next door to a single mother who unbeknownsted to him has just stolen a big bag of heroin from a dude.

In the tradition of LEON there’s a precocious little girl  that comes over and talks to our quiet, loner protagonist. She says she heard he was a gangster, and also that she wants to paint his fingernails, and he pays her fifty cents for loading his Mickey Mouse MP3 player with songs. But she’s obviously an annoyance to him, he tries to get rid of her, and doesn’t help her when he sees her getting into trouble with some other kids.

But this movie is not about babysitting. There is shit, and there is a fan, and the two are on a path to inevitable collision. When some very bad men come after the little girl’s mom and she won’t tell them where she hid their heroin the conflict is not resolved peacefully. And I’m not going to tell you what these guys do to her, but I will mention as possibly relevant information that in addition to heroin they sell human eyeballs, livers and hearts. Just as an FYI.

mp_manfromnowhereBut unlike THE PROFESSIONAL, where the little girl goes under the wing of a professional to try to become a professional, the little girl in this one is just taken, like in TAKEN. And although he doesn’t say it in a cool speech on the phone, The Man From Nowhere has what Liam Neeson would call a very particular set of skills, skills he has acquired over a very long career, be mindful of the living Force young padawan, take the fucking elephant.

In fact although this guy is a pretty boy there is definitely an element of Seagal in him. We find out he’s ex-special forces, that he can have a knife fight against 8 guys at once and kill all of them, and that he enjoys bending back hands to break their wrists. But because it comes from modern South Korea it’s even more violent than a Seagal picture. In the aforementioned knife fight there’s an addition that Seagal will probly borrow some day – as he dispatches each guy he violently slashes a major artery, usually on the wrist, and digital blood (complete with disgusting sound effect) pumps out as they die.

I don’t think this is a great movie, it’s pretty obvious about being “LEON meets TAKEN, but in Korea” and based on my limited sampling doesn’t seem to stand out too much from other modern Korean crime and revenge movies. Nicely shot, extremely violent, taking place in a horrific world where criminals are pretty much poachers of human children. But I enjoyed it because it has plenty of badass moments and it does have an odd touch here and there to spruce up the formula. So those of us who have seen it, let us acknowledge the parts that are worth acknowledging.

First of all there’s a couple funny lines, at least in the English subtitles. Like in the opening scene when a cop is about to throw down with a big dude and he tells him that he should just come to the police headquarters with them because they have snacks there. That’s a clever way to call a guy a fatty. And I like when the crime boss guy threatens his underlings by saying, “You better find that sample heroin or I’ll donate you two to the Bodies exhibition.” Great threat, and it takes on new meaning when you find out that these guys are in more than just the dope business. He might’ve been serious.

Another line I liked seemed like it probly lost something in the translation, but it sounds so crazy you gotta dig it: he tells his enemies that “I’ll keep the gold teeth, and I’ll chew up everything else.” The idea is that he has that pawn shop and these assholes are worth nothing to him but a couple specks of gold in their fillings. I get that, but is he really gonna chew up their bodies? That seems like it would take a while. And it conjures kind of a weird mental picture in my opinion. But weird enough to be cool.

It also has a good version of the effeminate-but-not-necessarily-gay type of villain. The guy’s hair and eyelashes look like the kids with the crybaby rock bands these days, and he’s such a sissy he almost cries when a gun goes off. He screams “You fucking startled me!” But as a villain he’s still a threat because of the guys he has working for him, and he’s such a scumbag that at one point he tries to justify systematically killing little kids and harvesting their organs. When you’re in that type of business you just shouldn’t say anything, but he thinks he can defend his actions with words.

Cha Tae-sik doesn’t look gritty, especially when he’s got bangs dangling oh so adorably over his eyes. The actor playing him is a model and they don’t ugly him up at all. He wears real nice suits and could pass for a pop star. So it’s hard to say he has a badass juxtaposition. He does work well with guns, a small ax and/or a nail gun, so you may or may not want to factor that in. But if he does have a juxtaposition it’s how this little girl paints a smiley face on one of his fingernails while he’s sleeping and he actually leaves it. So it kind of acts like the blue-stained hand Ed Harris gets in THE ABYSS – whenever you see that fingernail it’s a reminder that he’s trying to save this sweet little girl. He follows a trail of girly band-aids and fingernail paintings to save her.

There are some good action moments too. In one scene a bad guy thug does a running kick to the chest of a guy in a wheelchair, sending the wheelchair rolling backwards. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that move before.

My favorite is when the Man stalks a dude in his car and just walks up the hood onto the roof and fires down into the sunroof. That’s a completely badass move that’s foiled by bullet proof glass. At least initially. When his intended victim starts yelling about it being bullet proof glass the Man hold the barrel of the gun right to the windshield and unloads, slowly chipping through the glass with each shot. I loved that because even armor can sustain damage. Movies treat “bullet proof” like it means indestructible, but the truth is only KITT, KARR and Goliath can make that claim. Anything else can be damaged.

Directationally THE MAN FROM NOWHERE is nicely put together, with one standout shot: a handheld camera chases the Man down a hallway, and follows him after he crashes through a window, lands on street level and keeps running. I think there might’ve been some digital wizardry involved there, but it really creates the illusion that the scene was handled by a professional stuntman/camera operator able to do exactly what the star does. I’ll put up with a little more of this handheld bullshit if all the cameramen are gonna start running up walls and jumping off buildings.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Sunday, March 13th, 2011 at 10:55 pm and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

43 Responses to “The Man From Nowhere”

  1. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    March 14th, 2011 at 1:14 am

    In one scene a bad guy thug does a running kick to the chest of a guy in a wheelchair, sending the wheelchair rolling backwards.

    I was gonna pass this one up before I read that. A death kick into a guy in a wheelchair isn’t the type of thing I can ignore (worryingly).

  2. Looking forward to seeing this one. E-one is releasing it in the UK on April 11, and they’re also releasing the nutty Norwegian Ninja.

  3. I liked it but it felt like it wa missing that certain something.

    That said, the main guy, Won Bin, is definitely one to look out for in the future, as is the knife-weilding bad guy, who reminded me of an emasciated Donnie Yen.

    And yeah, NORWEGIAN NINJA looks like the greatest film ever. To come out of Norway. And feature ninjas.

  4. Knox Harrington

    March 14th, 2011 at 4:45 am

    I know I’ve said this a dozen times before, but you really should check out Kim Ji-Woon’s A Bittersweet Life and The Good, The Bad, The Weird. Phenomenal films, in my opinion. I also recommend Kim Ki-Duk’s Bad Guy. One of my favourites.

    And since I’m making requests, when are you gonna review The Losers, Vern? Would love to read your thoughts on that one.

  5. There’s not enough wheelchair-based violence in the world of BADASS CINEMA. You’ve got Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER, of course, an awesome adaptation of Thomas Harris, then maybe FREDDY GOT FINGERED, then that other RED DRAGON made-for-TV Ratner shit, then this, apparently.

    {Stephen Colbert voice:} Those who have lost the use of their legs have had a free ride in action movies for too long, I say.

  6. All I remember about FREDDY GOT FINGERED are the penises of elephants and horses.

  7. James Bond finally killed his wife’s murderer (SPOILER) by hooking Blofeld’s wheelchair onto a helicopter landing skid and then dropping him down a factory smoke stack. Done by a helicopter stunt pilot…on the first try. Nothing digital. I think that qualifies as BADASS CINEMA. Yes, that damned spoiled cat got away. What an asshole.

  8. Mouth, let’s not forget the immortal MR. NO LEGS. He will not only shotgun you from a comfortable sitting position, he is also a master of stump fu. Naturally, Vern reviewed it: http://outlawvern.com/2006/11/27/mr-no-legs/

    And of course there is the classic kill from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART TWO: THE “PART” PART MAKES IT CLASSY, in which bagheaded Jason splits a handicapped guy’s grill open with a machete and sends him rolling backwards down a couple flights of stairs.

    I believe 9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA also had the main villain (a gay Nazi in fingerless lace “Like A Virgin” gloves) trampled to death by a team of polo players.

    Even the soul-crushingly mediocre MECHANIC remake had a character get assassinated in his wheelchair.

    So there are precedents is what I’m saying. Still, there’s obviously room for improvement.

  9. Eagle vs Shark has some wheelchair action too.

  10. There’s also this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccF50ssJKVA
    I haven’t seen the whole movie, just this clip (which is dubbed in German for some reason), but the guy in the wheelchair is pretty bad-ass in it.

  11. It’s a hackneyed, trite convention to have a blind swordsman or blind martial artist in many a movie as an example of triumph and mastery when the odds are against you. It speaks to the human spirit, but it’s overused, played out, and just another movie stereotype, like the hooker with the heart of gold.

    I therefore propose we have a movie that features a wheelchair bound swordsman or martial artist. It is not a stereotypical convention, but it tugs on the same heart strings. So we remake “The Circle of Iron” with a dude in a wheelchair instead of being blind. We remake “Zatoichi” with a dude in a wheelchair instead of being blind. We remake “Elektra” with Terence Stamp in a wheelchair instead of being blind.

    Uh, scratch that last one.

  12. I seem to remember a badass wheelchair assassin in that Seijun Suzuki movie PISTOL OPERA.

  13. I’d pay good money to see a hardcore Death Race movie with guys in armoured wheelchairs instead of cars. It would be like Murderball, but instead of balls they’d be tossing grenades at each other.

    They could all be inmates at some prison for the handicapped or something. Places like that exist, right?

  14. Hmmm… if even the wheelchair novelty is worn off, then we switch up handicaps… how about an epileptic swordsman? Or a cerebral palsy swordsman?

    Wait, there’s that cerebral palsy serial killer movie already, “The Late Bloomer.”

    http://www.subwaycinema.com/nyaff05-latebloomer.htm

  15. Knox, your idea would have made an awesome sequel to the original Death Race. If anybody here knows how to travel back in time, please tell Paul Bartel about it.

  16. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    March 14th, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Texas Chain Saw Massacre had a good wheel chair slaying. Other than that I can only think of OJ Simpson in the wheel chair at the end of Naked Gun. Thanks for all the other badass wheelchair references. I’ll have to see them all now. Many thanks.

  17. Knox: “Battle Royale,” with wheelchairs

  18. Even videogames have wheelchair related fatality sometimes:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LShJtS3byHk
    It’s a shame BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA didn’t exploit David Lo Pan’s wheelchair for more stuff than Jack Burton nearly falling into a pit on one.

  19. Oh, and don’t forget Professor X getting disintegrated in X-Men 3. Admittedly, he was pulled out of his chair first, though…

  20. You guys are a fucking encyclopedia. Mostly useless knowledge, unless Crippled Cinema is ever a category on Jeopardy! and you’re a contestant, no offense, but I’m impressed regardless.

  21. As a Korean take on MAN ON FIRE, this wasn’t half bad at all.

    Like said in the review, there’s some really great touches that elevate this from typical offerings of this genre. Ten reasons why I liked the film:

    *SPOILERS*

    1) The car crash scene. Magic trucks appearing out of nowhere to crash cars is a worn cliche, but I think it worked well here. The steaming blood pouring out of the car was a great touch. A surprisingly affecting moment.

    2) The weird little one-handed checking-the-gun move. Reminded of Seagal’s own take on that.

    3) Jump kicking the dude in the wheelchair. And the guy doing the kicking was a cop too! I also liked his little Jesus speech and that he made the guy run to the police car.

    4) The just-how-badass-is-he scene. Nice to know South Korean intelligence openly employs assassins and that their records can be obtained by the cops with simple trickery. A Seagal movie would have had the dude just referred to have done some super classified hush-hush black ops shit in the CIA or something. No, here some dude tried to sell state secrets and they just had these guys to assassinate his ass. Simple as that.

    5) The window jump. Yes, it was obviously CGI enhanced, but I appreciate a director trying something neat and inventive.

    6) The nail gun. Good times.

    7) The “honorable” bad guy. Straight out of John Woo. It’s nice to know that a hardened professional killer – who has worked for years for child slavers, organ smugglers and heroin dealers – only needs a kid patching his head scratch with a colorful band aid to be won over. It was absolutely preposterous, but I loved it.

    8) The knife fight(s) in the end. Looked awesome, and had some great moves in it, like the already mentioned artery slashing. Quite brutal too, which I can appreciate in this era of PG-13 action films.

    9) The shooting of the bulletproof window.

    10) Freeze frame ending! So cheesy, so awesome.

    It started out as a bit slow, and the hero dude was a wooden blank slate for most of the time. I guess they tried to go for moody, dark and mysterious, but he ended up coming across kind of bland. But once he cut his emo hair, I felt he got some fire into him, and the film really got going.

    Not a bad way to spend two hours. Not at all.

  22. Napoleon Dynamite

    March 14th, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    When I think wheelchair abuse, I think of the incredible Dwight Yoakam in Sling Blade pushing that poor wheelchair dude into the door.

    Everybody I put on to that movie always mentions it when I ask what they thought of it.

    That Doyle was a mean bastard!!

  23. In the annals of wheelchair-related mayhem, let us not forget Richard Widmark in KISS OF DEATH…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHHJsXH3BiU

    …and of course Hong Kong cinema also has a long history of physically-challenged martial arts superheroics: CRIPPLED AVENGERS, ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, etc.

  24. THE CRIPPLED MASTERS take the cake in that department. The guy with no arms looks like he has a pork chop with a finger attached to it growing out of his shoulder. But damned if he can’t twirl a bamboo stick like a pro.

  25. I remember watching a tv show about kung fu movies, and they actually brought up and showed clips from a movie where due to a misunderstanding, Zatoichi fought The One-Armed Swordsman.

  26. Well said HT!

    As for your point number 3 …i’m glad you noticed it was a cop doing the flying kick into the wheelchair drug smuggler. I think it might be some form of Korean Cop greeting to criminals ….i’m sure i saw one cop in particular doing lots of flying kicks in Memories of Murder …except he’d take his shoes off first.

    The knife fight at the end was great. I particularly liked how he clamped his opponents knife hand in his teeth before his finishing move. Don’t think I’ve seen that before.

    And Vern ….. did you have your head in and out of the nacho bag watching this? It was what looked like a mother and her kid slapping So-Mi around in front of a pair of cops when the Man did a runner instead of helping her out.

    Cheers!

  27. Baraka: How about Daredevil in a wheelchair? Couldn’t be much worse, I suppose.

    My favorite crippled martial arts master(s) would definitely go to El Topo’s armless master/legless master combo, because I appreciate teamwork.

  28. Just remembered the Cripple Fight from that one South Park episode that homaged They Live

  29. The ultimate crippled action master is undoubtedly Chang Cheh with his classic ‘One-Armed Swordsman’ trilogy and his kung fu gore masterpiece ‘Crippled Avengers’. Respect.

  30. Hmm, I actually thought Vern would have like this movie more. While it bears similarities to ‘Leon,’ ‘Taken’ and ‘Man on Fire,’ I think it absolutely blows away the latter two films. Won Bin may be a pretty boy, but his ability to emote through facial expressions or body language really impressed me; it’s even more impressive when you consider the fact that this is the same actor who was previously in the memorably sinister drama ‘Mother,’ playing the mentally handicapped son.

    I’m surprised there wasn’t more discussion of how the action scenes were actually handled in this movie. In these days of extreme shakycam, cut-every-second chaos so popular in action cinema, it was wonderful to see the brutal action staged so gracefully, which allowed you to appreciate the choreography and athleticism on display. Honestly, I thought the fight scenes were some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen; they had the elegance of a great Chinese martial arts scene but still managed to feel grounded in reality.

  31. Well I managed to sit down and watch my review copy last night. Maybe it says something of the calibre of films I’ve been watching of late but I loved the hell out of this. Best “just how tough is he?” moment
    is when the moustachioed henchman reflects in the car: “He didn’t flinch. When I fired my gun, he didn’t flinch.”

  32. I watched this one last night and I have to agree with Vern, it is not great but it has enough interesting little touches and badass moments (including a number of savage knife fights) to make it an enjoyable film. One of my favorite parts of the film that Vern didn’t mention was the bad guy with the mustache who speaks English. He is an ice cold killer, but he is also an honorable villain. (SPOILERS) I liked how he is the first to pick up on how badass Tae-Sik Cha is, while the rest of the his associates still viewed him as just a regular guy. He tries to warn them that Tae-Sik didn’t flinch when he executed a man right in front of him. The honorable mustached killer knows what a badass looks like and acts like because he is one. Real recognize real, and Tae-Sik Cha looked very familiar to him. I also liked how they delivered on the promise of an epic knife fight between the two that was teased during their confrontation at the dance club. Thier final show down does not disappoint, and it features some of the best use of point of view camera work I have seen.

  33. Great review and I definitely agree on the effeminate villain – he actually terrified me and sure deserved what was coming to him. All in all this one was engaging and Won Bin is definitely easy on the eyes especially after he gave that ridicilously awesome haircut to himself.

    As for that shot you mentioned at the end of your review, they made a huge deal since the stunt in it was done by the star himself and they showed how it was filmed in the extra features.

    I liked the film except the actor who played the little girl.

  34. “In one scene a bad guy thug does a running kick to the chest of a guy in a wheelchair, sending the wheelchair rolling backwards.”

    Not trying to sound condescending, but are you sure you really saw the movie? The guy who kicked the wheelchair-bound man was a police officer trying to get a lead on the drug syndicate and Cha Tae Shik (lead) from a drug mule. Call him bad guy if you want, but is there anyone really a clean white and black in real life?

    Besides, that “limp” wasn’t a limp. He has cocaine in his crutches while trying to slip through immigration.

  35. I have pretty much no memory of this movie. I’m sure you’re correct, but the point is a guy got kicked in a wheelchair, and that was what I got out of it.

  36. I had a comment about your last paragraph:

    “Directationally THE MAN FROM NOWHERE is nicely put together, with one standout shot: a handheld camera chases the Man down a hallway, and follows him after he crashes through a window, lands on street level and keeps running. I think there might’ve been some digital wizardry involved there, but it really creates the illusion that the scene was handled by a professional stuntman/camera operator able to do exactly what the star does.”

    That was not camera wizardly or even a stuntman. That was Won Bin doing his own stunts using wires.

  37. I do believe that was multiple shots that they digitally combined, though. I recall that in the special features.

  38. Three things: 1. I love this one, so Im bound to point out that it’s getting a rare UK cinema screening as part of the Audience’s Choice programme at the 2015 London Korean Film Festival (as is THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD if you’re in town Vern!).

    2. That foot chase is great but what the camera gets up to here pales in comparison with what it does in the 5-minute, apparently single-shot football stadium scene in the original 2009 version of THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES. Check it out it now before the remake hype hits.

    3. And does car violence against wheelchairs count? I seem to remember Chris Mulkey driving a Ferrari over a wheelchair and occupant in the opening chase of THE HIDDEN.

  39. The Original Paul

    October 25th, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Oh yeah, forgot to post this.

    Borg9 – got any details of screenings of this in the UK? A lot of googling and checking of local arts cinemas has left me none the wiser.

  40. The Original Paul

    October 25th, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    And my nomination for “little-known wheelchair violence” would be the excellent THIRD STAR, where a wheelchair-bound Benedict Cumberbatch gets into a drunken bar fight.

    Man, I want to rewatch that movie now.

  41. The Original Paul

    October 26th, 2015 at 4:40 am

    Oh wait, it’s in London. Sorry Borg9.

    Never mind. (I can’t make a trip to London right now.)

  42. Paul, for the record, and in case your plans change: Audience’s Choice

    I can’t get there myself this year, but it’s a good festival.

  43. Sorry, looks like I messed that up; it’s late here. Try this:

    Korean Film

    Korean Film

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