Thursday, July 29, 2010

'Man'hardboiled but touching

Won Bin, right, and Kim Sae-ron star in a scene from "The Man From Nowhere.’’ The action drama by Lee Jeong-beom opens in theaters on Aug. 4.

It’s bloody and brutal, and harrowingly so ― as it pins down a soft spot in the hearts of viewers.

While featuring some of the most memorable child acting, this hardboiled action flick really must be kept far away from the young ones. "The Man From Nowhere’’ is quite predictable in many ways, but the manipulative jabbing effect is sorely felt because all the cruelty leaves you as vulnerable as the victimized children in the film. Breathless and flabbergasted, you’re bound to find solace in the tender melodrama, like a parched sojourner at an oasis in the middle of the desert.

Director Lee Jeong-beom has nevertheless crafted a convincing story that stands on its own two feet. Its strength lies in the fine details such as the carefully chosen supporting cast, witty dialogue and zesty comic relief, as well as character development and flashes of impressive cinematography.

Leading man Won Bin, moreover, makes it loud and clear that the project marks the full-fledged flight of his "second life as an actor,’’ which he once said about his international breakthrough role in Bong Joon-ho’s "Mother.’’

In his previous film Won showed that the brightest lights cast the darkest shadows, how the most transparent figures can harbor the most surprising secrets. Here he crosses over to the dark side once and for all, and trades in "Mother’s’’ oafish demeanor for sharp wits and really, really quick feet.

Dubbed "the pawn shop ghost,’’ Tae-sik, haunted by some painful past in his former work as a secret agent, lives in reclusion. He doesn’t say much while running an obscure pawn shop, and doesn’t even care to cut his hair.

So-mi, a neglected 10-year-old who lives next door, however, brightens up his stark existence like a ray of light. "People say you’re a child molester,’’ she says, but knows better about her one and only friend, and always invites herself over for a decent meal or to find refuge when her single mom decides to have a dose of drugs. In turn she does small chores like uploading songs onto Tae-sik’s mp3 player.

Korean cinema in recent years has seen pairings of unlikely duos, and Kim Sae-ron, the little girl with big talent of the Franco-Korean collaboration "A Brand New Life,’’ brings a breath of fresh air to the screen. Though children and animal co-stars are a faux pas for adult actors, since their cuteness steals the lime light, Won has no worries since most of the screen time is devoted to Tae-sik running to So-mi’s rescue.

So-mi is kidnapped by a crime ring when her club dancer mother becomes involved in a case, and Tae-sik, who seems to have discovered a pulse in his deadened heart, cuts his hair so he can run around to save his little friend. The viewer is given several tasks ― to wonder what this deep dark secret of his is all about while worrying about So-mi, who, for the black market organ sellers, is more valuable as a corpse.

When considering the illegal organ trade, films like "Dirty Pretty Things’’ come to mind. The skin-crawling realities of the illicit business was rendered palpable by setting it against a heartrending romance, and "The Man From Nowhere’’ plays at something similar, though with a touch of "Leon’’ with a narrative centered on the bond between a little girl and this "ajeossi,’’ or uncle figure.

Like other characters in the film, the audience may initially wonder why Tae-sik, who isn’t even So-mi’s dad, is willing to risk his life for her. Yet as his secrets unravel the film tugs at the heart for the right reasons, as it touches upon basic human needs, like the yearning for a reason to live, or die, and "jeong,’’ the feeling of fellowship that unites people together beyond blood ties.

Also intriguing is the subplot involving the detective handling the case and a powerful member of the crime ring (performed charismatically by Thai star Thanayong Wongtraku).

credit: Lee Hyo-won(Staff reporter)

The man from Nowhere's trailer

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