Since I had the day off today, I decided to catch up on two of the hottest films to hit Singapore’s box offices – World Invasion: Battle L.A. and the Korean action thriller The Man from Nowhere.
Predictably, Battle L.A. was everything Roger Ebert (THE film critic) said it would be – a trite piece of Hollywood garbage with deadpan actors, an even deader plot, and aliens that should have stayed home, but The Man from Nowhere, which I’d initially panned as just another Kimchi Blockbuster, totally blew me away.
The Man from Nowhere begins simply enough – a drug caper in Korea’s seamy criminal underworld plays contrast to Tae Sik’s seemingly mundane existence.
Tae Sik is a ghost of a man, a disheveled pawnshop keeper with shaggy, emo hair who nonetheless has a soft spot for So-mi, the heroin addled neighbor Hyo-jeong’s daughter.
In fact, the first 20 or so minutes plays like a feel good movie, and it’s endearing to see just how close Tae Sik and So-mi are. Naturally, this perfect existence is turned upside down when the baddies get wind that Hyo-jeong’s got their dope, and both mother and daughter are kidnapped.
Tae Sik is sucked into the mess when the baddies turn up at his pawnshop, one thing leads to another, and suddenly, this man from nowhere is on the warpath.
It’s a brilliantly charted warpath too, and while there’s nothing too unexpected – no incredible twists and turns that make you go “ooh” and “ahh”, The Man from Nowhere stands out as a great genre piece. (Then again, anything with drug heists, cops and robbers, body snatchers, organ grinders and an ex-Special Forces Assassin has got to be awesome, right?)
It’s a thriller with lots of action, and the fight sequences are some of the most amazing, intense and visceral that I’ve seen since Park Chan-wook pulled off his corridor scene in Old Boy.
Won Bin, who plays Tae Sik, performs amazingly well in the lead role, and Kim Sae-ron, who plays So-mi, delivers a credible performance, especially for a ten-year-old.
I was particularly impressed with the camera work for the fights, which were fast and dynamic, and there were a fair number of scenes, such as the confrontation on the dance floor of Club Eden and the knife duel towards the end that proved especially memorable.
(For Yu-Gi-Oh players, there’s also something of an easter egg in the middle of the movie, and that, coupled with the symbolism of the flavor text (excellent choice too, by the by), put a smile on my face.)
Lee Jeong-beom sure is a director to watch, if he can put out work of this caliber. It’s no wonder The Man from Nowhere was the top grossing film in South Korea last year, and an all round award winner.
Definitely the must see movie this week.
Battle L.A., on the other hand, is entirely overrated.