The Man from Nowhere

 

The Man from Nowhere

[aka: 아저씨 Ajeossi]

Written & Directed by Lee Jeong Beom

2010


Rated: R (violence, some nudity and drug use)


Cast:

Won Bin … Tae-Sik
Kim Sae-ron … So-Mi
Kim Hee-won … Man-seok

Kim Seong-oh ... Jong-seok
Kim Tae-hun … Chi-gon
Thanayong Wongtrakul… Ramrowan

Song Young-chang ... Oh Myung-Gyu
Kim Hyo-seo … Hyo-Jeong


Studio:

Theatrical: Opus Pictures

Video: Well Go (U.S.)

CJ Entertainment (Korea)


Video:

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC

Disc Size: 24.71 GB

Feature Size: 21.99 GB

Bit Rate: 19.44 Mbps

Runtime: 119 minutes

Chapters: 22

Region: A


Audio:

Korean DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48 kHz/1982 kbps/16-bit)

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

English Dolby Digital 2.0


Subtitles:

Feature & Bonus: English


Extras:

• The Making of Man from Nowhere - in SD (17:20)

• Highlights - in SD (5:10)

• Trailers for The Man from Nowhere, Legend of the Fist, Ip Man 2, 9th Company, Yoga - in HD


Presentation:

Amaray locking Blu-ray case w/ slipcover.

Release Date: March 8, 2011



The Movie: 8

I suppose it’s hard not see “influences” of that which came before, whether real or imagined, conscious or un-, The Man from Nowhere - billed by Well-Go in these parts as Korea’s highest grossing film of 2010 - has echos of Man on Fire, Leon, Taken, and in the remarkable knife fight at the the film’s finale, both Kill Bill and Oldboy.  That said, The Man from Nowhere is it’s own movie, and it’s star, Won Bin (whom you will remember from Taegukgi, and perhaps not from “Mother” so unlike that role is this.)


The Korean title [아저씨 Ajeossi] is what 10-year old So-Mi and others in the neighborhood call Tae-Sik.  It’s a fairly nondescript term, translating loosely as “middle-aged man.”  In its peculiarly Korean way, it kinda fits.  Tae-Sik runs a pawnshop out of his apartment.  No one knows much about him.  Some, like So-Mi’s mother, take him for a gangster or worse.


     


When Tae-Sik and his significant antagonist, Man-Seok, finally confront each other, the drug lord asks how someone who is not even a blood relative could risk all for a little girl whose organs on the black market would scarcely pay for her keep.  Tae-Sik replies “I’m her next door neighbor.”  There’s a good deal embodied in that line: explicit, wry, and cathartic.  Until her kidnapping, Tae-sik had given a somewhat reluctant neighborly nod to the little girl.  He would rather remain anonymous, and, to our horror, does exactly that one day when she is bullied by some of the local citizens.  She calls out to him to speak up for her, to stand in for her father, in fact, but he simply vanishes into an adjacent alley.


     


There is a story behind his retirement (and not one that in any way should be confused with the British science fiction comic hero who shares the same title), and that story explains not only why he resists entanglements but also how he is a man feared and respected by the hoods who appear in his room one day looking for heroin stolen by So-Mi’s mother.  From that moment, Tae-Sik is involved, like it or not, especially when they take the girl and her drug-infested mother hostage - for what ends Tae-Sik does not yet understand.


When several corpses become the biproduct of a local DEA drug bust of a ring led by Oh Myung-Gyu, Tae-Sik turns up as one of those arrested.  The police soon discover that they have on their hands a man with no record of his existence for the previous six or eight years.  Truly a man from nowhere.


     


With the exception of Kim Sae-ron as So-Mi and Thanayong Wongtraku as Ramrowan, Man-Seok’s best assassin and bodyguard, most every actor in the film is playing their character for all their worth - often with an hysterical edge, like Kim Seong-oh as the vicious Jong-seok.  There’s a certain manga quality to these characters, as there is with Tae-Sik himself, starting with his shaded hairstyle that embodies his shadowy self. In the title role, 33-year old Won Bin is vulnerable, cool, detached, and an intensely fired up action hero, as required.  The actor is brilliant and fully deserves the accolades heaped upon him - but we shouldn’t be at all surprised having seen his work in roles as divergent as the younger brother who goes battle crazy during Taegukgi’s Korean War, and the developmentally handicapped son of the title character in Bong Joon-ho’s justly praised “Mother.”


     


Thai actor Thanayong Wongtraku as Ramrowan, lends the film some sober gravitas with his quiet understanding of Tae-sik as an adversary from the moment he first sees him in action.  We know it will come down to a showdown between these two, and we are not disappointed.  Ramrowan is very old-school and feels he must confront Tae-sik on equal terms and avoids merely shooting him when he has the chance.


Kim Sae-ron as So-Mi is, as usual for Korean child actors, intuitive and captivating.  She has some of the most heartrending moments in the movie, and never overplays or sentimentalizes them.  When she tells Tae-sik that she can’t hate him even though he left her in the street, manhandled by authorities, because that would mean she would have no one left in her life she likes, she is is brimming with unaffected understanding; we can’t help but lose out grip on the rational.  Sae-ron is a bit underused in the movie, but that’s only because we like her so much and she plays a real human being (as does the grocery store owner).  I’m not sure if the movie can stand any more of that than we get.


     


Image : 9/9

In my comparative reviews for the Hong Kong Universe and U.S. Well Go Blu-rays of Ip Man the U.S. edition didn’t fare so well.  Here I do not have the Korean edition to compare, nor have I decided if I will spring for it, seeing as how it costs nearly three times the price (YesAsia vs. Amazon).  CJ is usually excellent, but I can’t say I find anything serious to complain about regarding the new Well Go.  It may be a trifle polished in the brightly lit scenes, and the darker scenes sport a consistent medium black grain consistent with a video source rather than film, but played through my OPPO/JVC combination did not interfere with my enjoyment.  The video bit rate is a modest 18.44 Mbps, and since the entire content is encoded onto a single layered disc, it may or may not be bettered on CJ if indeed the latter is dual layered.


Contrast is superb - and it needs to be to deal properly with Lee Te-yoon’s cool, shadowy lighting; color is natural; flesh tones slide to yellow/green in moderate lighting; sharpness and resolution are excellent; blacks are deep and without crush. I found no transfer issues to distract me and the print itself is, as expected for a film only six months old, spotless.


     


Audio & Music : 8/7

Well Go’s Korean 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix specs out in a 16-bit presentation as opposed to CJ Entertainment’s 24-bit, but not having the latter to audition I cannot comment beyond that.  I can, however, attest to the present copy being quite good indeed, feeling that any shortcomings are probably inherent in the original material.  I was particularly taken with how the live club music changes dynamic scale depending on where we hear it from: e.g. on the dance floor, just outside the entrance, in the hallway backstage or in the locker room.  Very attentive.  Other effects are properly scaled and positioned.  Knife swishes are exaggerated, as is the style for such thrillers, with more uniformity to their various thrusts and parries than I had hoped - more an observation, than a quibble, really.  The Korean dialogue is attentive to location and clear regardless of how busy other effects are.  Car crashes (of which there are mercifully few) are not heightened for effect, but are given a more naturalistic rendering with sufficient bass and shattered glass to please all but hard core enthusiasts.


     


English Dub & Subtitles : 4/7

As they did for their Blu-ray edition of Ip Man, Well Go offers an English dub for those who can’t or don’t wish to deal with subtitles.  It’s no better or worse than many of its breed, which is to say, it feels like the dialogue is being read by first year college drama students - no offense intended to the students.  None of the voicing remotely resemble their Korean counterparts in timbre, nuance or intensity, though the sync is about as good as can be expected.  If at all possible, opt for the original.


The subtitles are not a mere transcript of the English dub, which, I neglected to mention, is quite good as a translation into idiomatic English.  As for the subtitles, I can’t speak to its authenticity, but reads well and clarifies the action.  The white font is readable and a little large for my taste.  It would have been nice if the subtitles indicated when the original language was other than Korean, since that fact is made something of from time to time.  Also missing are subtitles for signs or for the credits, before or after the film, or for the title card.


     


Extras : 3

The Korean Blu-ray from CJ Entertainment sports two commentaries but (to my knowledge) no translation.  Alas, Well Go gives us neither.  They rely instead on a 5-minute promo they call “Highlights” and a 17-minute “Making of” piece that offers narrationless, but nevertheless, revealing behind the scenes peeks at key action sequences plus a few remarks by Won Bin, child actress Kim Sae-ron and director Lee Jeong Beom.  As far as it goes, and despite its being only 480i 4:3, the feature is worth the trouble.  Well Go rounds off their Bonus Features with HD trailers for this and four upcoming movies: Donnie Yen’s “Legend of the Fist” and “Ip Man 2,” “9th Company,” the prize-winning Russian film set during their invasion of Afghanistan, and the Korean B-horror movie “Yoga.”


     


Recommendation : 7

Well Go’s English dub may strike us as rushed, but we should want the original Korean in any case.  Extra Features are lacking, but these are the only downsides to this otherwise highly recommendable disc.  It may be that the Korean Blu-ray will win out in points (and it does have more extra features), but the price differential weighs strongly in favor of the Well Go, about which this title speaks well for.  Korea and Well Go have given us a blockbuster worthy of the name.  The Man from Nowhere.  Buy it.  Watch it.  Love it.


     



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

February 27, 2011


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