In the action genre it’s difficult to find a universal meaning for what classifies a great action movie. For some it could simply mean the film in question has plenty of violence to satisfy adrenaline junkie. While for others it could simply mean the story took it time to make the preceding events meaningful if it comes of the cost of little violence being shown. If there is a middle ground in the genre it’s often not dictated by it main character, but rather the writer. Anyone who writes action films must understand their main character thoughts, and physical limitations (if any) before the presence of a threat ever appears. If not accounted for this crucial building block can misguide the writer. For example, if the writer is attempting to do the everyman hero archetype correctly than viewer exposure to seeing them perform superhuman feat, and surviving multiple impossible scenarios will serve against the everyman hero archetype. There’s also the argument that the action genre already peaked unable ever surpass the classic films whose influence is still present in the genre today. I on the other hand would say since the 80s the genre has been improving in certain areas, especially when it comes to crafting characters, and stories that never loses the viewer attention even when no violence seems presence. Jeong-beom Lee’s film, The Man from Nowhere/Ajeossi, understands the genre, but thanks to smart choices in the script, and execution of a familiar template creates a film that embodies the best aspect it genre at it most meaningful.
The Man from Nowhere follows a quiet pawnshop keeper with a violent past taking on a drug trafficking ring in hope of saving the child who is his only friend. Our leading character is Tae-sik (Bin Won), who on the surface is the every man action hero archetype who seems distant from people. In the action genre, the mysterious loner who some innocent person (usually a child or navie young woman) befriends by being persistent isn’t new in films. What matter most when it comes to familiar ideas, and plot devices is the usage of them. In The Man From Nowhere it gets virtually everything right about good writing from the very first scene. Setting up story elements that will later be expanded into greater significance as it progress. It sets up important story pieces for about half an hour establishing its central relationship with simple key scenes, and setting up intrigue in Tae-sik without directly revealing anything about him. You know from the premise Tae-sik cold attitude towards his neighbor child isn’t without reason. How writer, and director Jeong-beom Lee uses this plot device correctly was not reserving, displaying Tae-sik emotional attachment solely for its climax. By doing this, Jeong-beom Lee film benefits from this decision since it allows Tae-sik to be further developed as a character, and let the film not be reliant on showing the cold hearted protagonist become emotional for its central storyline.
It’s first thirty minutes are significant to how well the story is structure. Starting off like a character drama before switching gear in its second act to be an action thriller. For example, one moment in the film shows Tae-sik paying his respect to a woman whom nothing is revealed about. As the film eventually reveals Tae-sik connection to this woman the pieces fall into place for his attachment towards his neighbor daughter Jeong So-mi (Sae-ron Kim). It becomes a meaningful revelation since before Tae-sik past is revealed he is shown to care for Jeong So-mi. Another example of a well executed plot device is from a simple phone call. It’s between two criminals where a simple exchange is in placed to move the story forward. What detail is given, but not placed directly at the viewer attention is a snippet of dialogue. In context, it does more than move the story forward as a couple lines is given more significant later in the film. One of the best part of the story is how plot devices are more meaningful by the way they were used, and when to use them at the right time. The only serious issue to be found with the writing in its first act is in a scene where Jeong So-mi talks to Tae-Sik in a alley. It’s basically the equivalent of Jeong So-mi breaking the fourth wall to tell the audience to feel bad for her since she has a terrible life. It doesn’t help that the way it filmed explicitly shows Jeong So-mi character turning around, and describing how she is use to being neglected. It’s a heavy handed moment despite being well acted by Sae-ron Kim.
Once the story kicks in it never lets up, nor does it undermine the importance of focusing on characters. As it story expands into something larger Tae-sik becomes more developed as the film progresses. Another positive of the film is never forgetting about its characters preventing itself from oversimplifying the conflict. While it is easy to know whom to cheer for in the film, the execution of it the story makes it clear that a good guy, or a villain is not just a label certain characters carry. Succeeding in giving characters small traits that attempt to make them more human than just an obstruction of its main character goal. The film weakest character are easily the policemen whom serve to reveal information on the current situation, and discovers details on the protagonist of the film. What Jeong-beom Lee accomplishes through his writing, and choices is delivery an action film that places equal importance on providing a good story as well offering familiarity within the genre. Action junkies, and casual viewers will probably know the beats of this specific premise, but it’s much more than a well written film. It’s a step forward for the genre that often recycles ideas by giving it more depths than what was expected of it in the past. Displaying a willingness to take the genre to greater heights in a different way.
Actor Bin Won takes the lead as the quiet, hardened pawnshop keeper. Striking a balance between the everyman, and the cold character he display on the surface. One contributing factor to his performance is being able to balance the material he’s given with ease. Won does not deliver his dialogue emotionlessly when he speaks. Knowing through his delivery how to properly express himself in the context of certain scenes. When it comes to scenes where Bin Won has to display other range of emotion it feels consistent for the character. Bin Won does not overact in any facet of his character so he is never too robotic sounding, nor too emotional when it demands him. Another advantage to Bin Won performance is seeing him performing the action sequences himself. There’s a stunt in the film where Bin Won is an executing a leap from the second storey of a building, leaping through the window followed by a roll on the ground to break his fall, and all done in one swift take. Moments like these further emphasizes not only Bin Won ability as an actor to commit to a role, but further makes his character more involving knowing the actor himself is performing these scenes blurring the line between actor, and character.
Actress Sae-ron Kim does well in the role of playing the film naive, persistent child Jung So-Mi who befriends the quiet pawnshop keeper. She makes her character sympathetic, and in the few scenes she shares with Bin Won they play off each convincingly. Never once does she come across as pouty, or annoying the film. It’s remarkable that in her young age in the film, she actually has an understanding of how to deliver her material properly. Kim Hyo-seo plays Hyo-Jeong (So-Mi’s mother) is in few scenes, but contributes to the film nonetheless. Her few moments in the film shows the actress playing a struggling mother. Despite the length of time she’s actually makes good use of her time. Then there’s Kim Hee-Won, and Kim Sung-Oh both of whom do a good job in their roles. Usually in action movies whenever an actor is given a villainous character they go all out. However, both Hee-Won, and Sung-Oh performances are grounded making their characters more human. By portraying them as criminals it helps take them more seriously if they simply went out to be comically evil.
The supporting cast in general places good effort into the film no matter the size of their role. Actor Thanayong Wongtrakul is probably the last actor worth mentioning in the film. Wongtrakul plays Ramrowan who’s basically the adversary of the film protagonist. Like his other co-stars whom play criminals, Wongtrakul performances is also grounded making his character more memorable than it would have been otherwise. The film score is composed by Hyun-jung Shim. His score does include the bombastic sound one might expect from the action genre, but the noteworthy tracks are the ones that evoke feeling of a different genres, or uses unorthodox instruments to compose an epic sounding soundtrack despite its modern setting. Two outstanding tracks from the film are Chain of Mystery that evokes feeling of uneasiness perfect for a horror film, and the tracked named after the film itself. Thankfully, director Jeong-beom Lee knows when to implement the soundtrack to emphasizes a scene to make it more impactful, and when not to use too.
From a technical standpoint Jeong-beom Lee film has the polish look of a blockbuster. Tae-yoon Lee cinematography is simply beautiful to look at, even during the film’s darker moments. Lee isn’t afraid to show the few instances of darker material thus giving the conflict a greater sense of weight. Thankfully, Jeong-beom Lee also knew to use shots of dark material sparingly so the effect wouldn’t diminish over time. When the film finally gets to the action scenes they are well worth the wait. Despite the gap between action scenes, and length between them all of the set pieces aces good filmmaking techniques. Not only does Lee use long takes of his actor performing the action sequences, but make sure to never lose the audience. The film first fight scene last less than a minute, but the performance, and the way it shot doesn’t diminish it’s a good action scene. Bin Won convincingly performs the fight in the speed it was required to pull it off. The film’s climax is easily the film’s most memorable sequence. Not only contextually is it the most satisfying set piece since the film builds up to this moment, but the actual action scene by itself is well choreographed. It doesn’t exaggerate Bin Won ability within the scene, and does a good job in giving multiple performers within in the scene something to do. So you won’t see an actor in the background simply seeing the hero killing someone making it also feel grounded. There’s also some practical blood splatter effect in the film for added effect in its brutality. When the film gets to the knife fight between the hero, and his adversary it’s more believable than one might expect. The blades of the knives barely clash with each other with the fight sequence playing more on overpowering the other opponent. It also doesn’t last too long to take away from the serious tone of the scene.
The Man from Nowhere excels in execution, and delivery of its own material creating a must see film. There are films I shower with endless praise, and there’s also films I personally would recommend reader to check out, even if it means they might trust my viewpoints on films less if we disagree. This is a film I would personally recommend to anyone reading this. While it does the carry the label of an action film, and contains familiar story beats the execution makes the film more meaningful than the simple label of being an action film. It might not succeed in making you emotionally invested, but an action film like this that places equal importance on good characters, and story as well as providing of what expected of it within the genre are commendable traits. Standing as a good example of pushing the action genre forward in a positive direction, and offering more than what audiences demanded of such films from the past. It’s a masterpiece in the genre, and is one of the most satisfying (and crowd pleasing) film the genre has produced.