K-movie Review: The Man From Nowhere/Ahjussi

Monday, June 18, 2012

PhotobucketI spent my free time in the weekend by watching some movies I haven't had a chance to see yet. The action-packed The Man From Nowhere/Ahjussi has been on my list for a while now. This is worth watching more than once. First time you will be overwhelmed by the fast-moving storyline and the violent fighting scenes that you might miss the beauty of the cinematography and the wonderful acting by Won Bin and Kim Sae Ron, so the second time would be necessary to appreciate the movie fully. This is, for sure, a must watch for action-lovers.

 Plot summary: 

Cha Tae Sik (Won Bin) is a mysterious owner of a run-down pawnshop in a seedy part of town. Distant and taciturn, he keeps to himself. Yet over time, he has formed a strange friendship with a young girl, So Mi (Kim Sae Ron), who calls him "ahjussi". Living next door with her heroin-addict mother Hyo Jeong (Kim Hyo Seo), So Mi spends time with ahjussi when her mother neglects her.
A drug deal is set to happen in the night club Hyo Jeong works in. Undercover police, lead by detective Kim Chi-Gon (Kim Tae Hun), are observing the transfer and ready to bust in. However, Hyo Jeong steals the heroin before the police can make the arrest, and hides it in a camera bag, which she pawns off to unknowing Tae Sik. Drug dealers trace Hyo Jeong down and take her and So Mi hostage. Now Tae Sik has to rescue So Mi and go against the drug mobster Man Sik (Kim Hee Won) and his brother Jong Suk (Kim Sung Oh), while simultaneously trying to escape the police forces chasing him.

[NOTE: This should be pretty much a spoiler-free review. The few spoilers I have included have been separated from the rest of the text and can only be seen if you highlight it.]

 What I liked: 

The action scenes. The action scenes were filmed superbly. The fighting choreography was fast and cool, at times perhaps a bit hard to follow, but ultimately visually compelling. What I really liked was that we didn't have that non-stop gunfire and explosions going off everywhere, but our hero relied on hand-to-hand combat and martial arts instead. The beautiful cinematography also complimented the action scenes. Though, some scenes were a bit too much at times. Violence and brutality of these scenes was depicted quite graphically that even I had to look away during some parts of the film, but at the same time they remained tasteful, not super gory.

The acting and the characters. First of all, Won Bin as Cha Tae Sik was perfectly cast. Apart from the obvious fact that he is fit and pretty to look at in action scenes - the guy can act as well. As his character Cha Tae Sik was really a man of very few words, Won Bin had to convey all the emotions with his facial expressions and body language and he delivered without a doubt, in my opinion. Tae Sik may start out as somewhat emotionless and distant, but over the course of the movie we learn about his past and the man he was, allowing us to see Won Bin act out a totally different side of his character. There were couple of scenes in the movie where, as we learned the tragic back story of Tae Sik's character, Won Bin totally captured my heart by showing the utter heartbreak of a man that has lost everything. 
Then we have young actress Kim Sae Ron who is impossible not to love. She is adorable. Despite her young age, her acting feels very sincere. And the chemistry between her and Won Bin was one of the most notable things about the entire thing as it really made us believe in the bond between "the ahjussi" and So Mi. Actually, the introduction of their relationship in the beginning was what I enjoyed the most about this movie, making me sad when they spent the rest of the time being apart.   

The film also features truly brutal and sadistic villains played by Kim Hee Won and Kim Sung Oh. Kim Hee Won's character was calculative and without no mercy, while Kim Sung Oh's character is pretty much crazy (remember when Kim Sung Oh played that silly secretary in Secret Garden, pretty unbelievable huh?). I couldn't see any humanity in them, meaning that the actors did their job well. They were both extremely menacing and I feared for the other characters every time either of them was on the screen. I was impressed with both of the actors.
I would also like to mention Kim Hyo Seo who played So Mi's mother. She gave a good performance as the drug-addicted woman, desperate for her next high. Beautiful, but pathetic as a person, and terrible as a mother. Yet, I'd argue that there was a hint of good in her, which we unfortunately couldn't see because the demise of her character.

Ramrowan (played by Thanayong Wongtrakul). While we had so many cold-blooded and inhumane characters in the film, I thought it was nice to have at least one of them who had some ounce of humanity left in him. 
SPOILER. Highlight between the brackets to read the spoiler text: (Though Ramrowan's character was as brutal and merciless as the others, he rediscovered his compassion and decided to save So Mi. I didn't feel bad for his death for he had been a part of a ruthless plan to begin with and probably deserved death. But I did find the moments between him and So Mi very touching.)

The recurring motifs and symbolism. Most notable was definitely the nail-art that So Mi had done on one of ahjussi's fingers. This served as reminder of his goal to save her and was the symbol of her care and love. Another one was the Dark Knight card (So Mi: "It beats everything.") that she gave him, which was like her way of protecting him. Not to mention the obvious that the Dark Knight symbolised him as So Mi's knight and protector. There were several more such as the head-shaving scene, in which Tae Sik sheds his pawn-shop owner's identity and transforms into a warrior of sorts, determined to bring justice, and So Mi's band-aids, which refer to the process of healing and change.

The cinematography. The film was beautifully filmed, despite the violent and disturbing scenes. I also loved the colour palette, which was mostly in depressing, bluish tones contrasted with the flashback scenes that had a light, sunny glow.

 What I didn't like: 

The predictability of the plot. In its own right the movie was very well-written and I can't complain much, but, in all honesty, the story wasn't anything new. We have the tragic hero with perfect fighting skills and a hidden past who has to rescue someone he holds dear. Naturally, the police associates him with the bad guys and he has to go against the police and the bad guys simultaneously. This is a classic plot for an action film and it doesn't really surprise you in the end. If you have seen your share of action movies then you can pretty much guess what happens in the next scene. But to its credit, it did take the best of the over-played narrative and made it into a very compelling viewing experience nevertheless.

 Overall conclusion: 

Like I said a must watch for action movie fans, but totally enjoyable for viewers who appreciate emotional character interactions and beautiful cinematography. It can be too violent at times, but it is necessary to show the brutality of the criminals and the hopelessness of the victims. The plot is slightly typical, but still gripping in its own terms. I liked this one a lot. Like a lot.


Action - Great fighting scenes: well thought out choreography and really cool stunts. 

Acting - The acting was what drove the movie. Won Bin not only makes one very cool hero, but he also shows that he is perfectly capable of handling emotional scenes. Kim Sae Ron is utterly lovable and delivers a very heartfelt performance. And Kim Hee Won and Kim Sung Oh are terrifying as the two twisted-minded brothers.

Plot - A bit too predictable perhaps, but the story pulls you in quickly enough to forget that you already know where this is heading to.

Cinematography and editing - Beautiful. The camerawork was superb. I actually read that one cameraman had to follow Won Bin and jump out of a window to get the particular shot. Now that's commitment.

Soundtrack - Absolutely loved the ending song "Dear" by Mad Soul Child.

 Final rating: 9       Enjoyment: 10 

 Memorable quotes: 

So Mi: "Ajusshi! I embarrass you too, right? That’s why you ignored me? It’s okay. My teacher and all the kids at school do that, too. Mom said that if I get lost, I should forget our address and phone number. She gets drunk and says we should die. Even though that pig called me a bum… You’re meaner. But I don’t hate you. Because if I do, I won’t have anyone I like. Thinking about it hurts me here (she pounds her chest near her heart). So I won’t hate you."
Cha Tae Sik: "You live only for tomorrow."
Man Suk: "What?" 
Cha Tae Sik: "The ones that live for tomorrow, get fucked by the ones living for today." 
Man Suk: "What are you babbling about?"
Cha Tae Sik: "I only live for today. I'll show you just how fucked up that can be."
Storekeeper: "Parenting isn't just giving birth."


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  1. I LOVED this movie. I thought it would be a Man On Fire ripoff but I was SHOCKED at the depth of the story. At one part my friends and I all screamed at the TV at the same time. so much fun to watch!!!

    1. Yeah, the theme is similar to Man On Fire, but the two films are really not the same. They're good in their separate ways and you can watch both without getting the feeling that you've seen it before in another language.


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