Man From Nowhere, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe takes a couple of fists to the face while watching this popular Korean flick.
Cha Tae-Sik (Won Bin) leads a quiet, lonely life as the owner of a small pawn shop located in a bad part of town. His most regular visitor and occasional dinner companion is a street smart little girl named So-Mi (Kim Sae-Ron). So-Mi’s mother, Hyo-Jeong (Kim Hyo-Seo), is a heroin addict who smuggles the drug for an international trafficking organization. Hyo-Jeong tricks Tae-Sik into holding her stolen stash, and is soon after taken captive by the traffickers, along with her daughter. The traffickers come to the pawn shop looking for their drugs, and instead discover that Tae-Sik has secrets of his own, including incredible martial arts abilities and skill with weapons.
After sweeping much of the 2010 Korean Film Awards (picking up trophies for best actor, best new actress, best cinematography, best music, best lighting, best visual effects and best editor, but losing best film and best director to Lee Chang-Dong’s Poetry), and ranking number one among the countries box office champions to the year, The Man From Nowhere has found its way to US Blu-ray. And less than a year after its initial release. That’s a pretty remarkable turn around, sadly. This rather derivative but handsome thriller reminds me of Kim Jee-Woon’s Bittersweet Life, which follows a similarly reserved criminal protagonist, and features a similar overall look. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as writer director Lee Jeong-Beom has picked a fantastic look to build a more personal style upon. I can’t find much negative to say concerning Lee’s visuals beyond their relative familiarity (he mimics and improves upon the ‘steady-cam through the window’ shot from Greengrass’ Bourne Ultimatum), and his work with actors, especially lead Won Bin, and little Kim Sae-Ron, who destroys all other actors on screen with her utter adorability.
Occasionally the plot is overly complicated (admittedly I have trouble keeping track of characters in foreign films when they’re only discussed by name), but Lee is good about keeping the important story elements clear enough in the end. The story features a lot of familiar elements (warring gangs, child slavery, organ trade, etc.), but Lee mixes them in a ‘kitchen sink’ manner that would make Takashi Miike proud. The whole film could do with a little tightening up, but overall the story unfolds quite effectively, and it’s not entirely predictable either. More troubling is the emotional impact, which despite being more than a little heavy handed on approach, is ridiculously effective. The slapstick comedy threatens to screw with the tone too much at times, but offers an important balance to the occasionally painfully straight faced melodrama. Truth be told, it’s also laugh out loud funny at times, even if the goofy DEA agents cross a line on occasion. The less funny, gorier violence is relatively extreme, and brutal in a manner usually not found in American action moves. Kills are bloody, painful, and most victims do not die quickly. Lee uses unnecessary shaky-cam and crash-zoom at times, but for the most part the fight scenes and shoot outs are shot with precision and rather awesome impact.
I don’t know if South Korea is as Baroque as it appears in all these New Wave movies, but I’m pretty much assuming at this point, and would like the tourist bureau to know I’ll be very upset if I get there someday and see anything different. Well Go USA keeps getting better following their disappointing Ip Man release, and from what I’ve seen The Man From Nowhere is the best 1080p product they’ve produced yet. This is an extremely clean and colourful transfer. The clarity of the detail is extreme enough to occasionally create the illusion of reality, as if you could reach into the set and touch the set pieces (it appears that at least some of the film was shot digitally). Most of the film is very dark, with nighttime sequences bathed in blue, and most daylight sequences tinted yellow. The blacks are incredibly sharp and deep, and even the darkest sequences are relatively free and clear of excessive grain, and the only digital artefacts I really picked up were a few minor blooming whites due to over-sharpening. Poppy colour elements are expertly chosen, like red blood splatter (especially during the particularly blue-tinted climax) or the pink of a back pack, and used with relative restraint.
After some trouble with their compressed Dolby Digital 9th Company release, Well Go USA is back on track with a solid DTS-HD Master Audio track. Better news yet – this uncompressed track is in the original Korean (the 9th Company disc only features the original Russian track as a 2.0 afterthought). The track is clear, loud, and crisp all around. My only minor problem is a general lack of rear channel effects, which is likely an issue with the original production mix, not this disc. There’s some minor buzz like rain effects, street ambience, and beeping arcade machines, but not much else. There’s a pretty major series of fights in the center of the film that take place in a techno club, and the throbbing music bleeds through the walls into the club’s bathroom in an incredibly realistic (not to mention bassy) manner, but even this mostly comes from the front channels. The most expressive the rear channels get is during a large, slowly spreading explosion that is shot from about a million different angles. The score, which is a familiar mix of mournful strings and aggressive drums, features quite a few stereo effects of its own, and has a good LFE presence that isn’t overbearing on the more subtle effects.
The brief extras begin with a rough little making-of featurette (17:20, SD). This features raw behind the scenes footage, and mostly pertains to the choreography and filming of the fight sequences. There are subtitles, but no real interview footage or context for the scenes, and the basic effect is pretty drab. This leads into a more standard EPK, including brief interviews with Won Bin, Kim Sae-Ron, writer/director Lee Jeong-Beom and quick cuts of behind the scenes footage, including some of the impressive camera rigs used to capture the action. Other extras include a highlight reel (who knows why), a teaser, and a full trailer.
The Man from Nowhere isn’t quite as great as a lot of the Korean movies that have been making their way to American Blu-ray the last few years, but it’s an impressive piece of action cinema, and might even inspire a minor lump in some viewers’ throats. I whole heartedly recommend a viewing, but can’t quite demand a sight-unseen purchase. This disc represents Well Go USA’s most consistent Blu-ray release in terms of video and audio quality, though I have to admit that the extras are relatively dull.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 8th March 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Korean and English, Dolby Surround Korean and English
Extras: Making Of EPK, Highlight Reel, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Lee Jeong-Beom
Cast: Won Bin, Kim Sae-Ron, Kim Hyo-Seo
Length: 119 minutes
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