Man on Fire
You may want to compare this with, or see shades of the film from the likes of Luc Besson's The Professional, Pierre Morel's Taken and Tony Scott's Man on Fire, with the common running theme of a highly skilled operative taking it upon himself to rescue someone they love from the clutches of devious villains, and executing a brand of vengeance without remorse as he ploughs through and single-handedly demolishes all who stand in his way. The Man From Nowhere is South Korea's answer to this sub-genre, and does so with aplomb both in providing that emotional punch to the highly choreographed set action pieces.
The heartthrob Won Bin buffs up to become that titular character Cha Tae-Sik, a man with a secret past who now lives his life incognito in a shady pawnshop trade, striking up his only friendship with the outside world through Jeong So-Mi (Kim Sae Ron from A Brand New Life doing an excellent job once again), the kid from next door whose mom happened to offend drug traders who are also in the business of dealing with the lucrative body organs black market. In fact, the villains are portrayed in such negative light for the multitude of vices they get involved in, including kidnapping children for an Oliver Twist type of artful dodging profession as couriers, that you just cant' wait for them to get their just desserts.
So-Mi's capture and her mom's demise moves the plot forward with Cha having to rely on skills from his past to reclaim the only life of normalcy he knows, as he goes on a one man rampage trying to piece together how deep the rabbit hole of villainy goes, while on the chase by both the cops, led by Detective Kim Chi-Gon (Kim Tae-Hun) and the villains all out to put a stop to his series of destruction to their business. Like any Korean film, there is ample time given to deal with Cha's backstory, as well as to showcase Won Bin's good looks sans scruffy long hair and a perpetual scowl on the face. His previous film Mother and this one put together would already prove that Won Bin has a wide range of emotions to play unorthodox characters rather than just being another pretty boy on the block.
Now for all the action junkies who think they may have seen it all, this Korean flick ups the ante in at least two scenes which makes you sit up and take notice that the stunt coordinators are no pushovers and can offer something refreshingly different. There's that iconic leap from the balcony in The Bourne Ultimatum that had Jason Bourne chase someone through the balcony window in a leap that's followed by a camera. Here, the same got pulled off with the major difference being knowing it is precisely the actor Won Bin himself executing the move from a second storey leap through the window followed by a roll on the ground to break fall, all done in one swift motion, and unless some devious trick is used, that's the actor alright.
The other is the much lauded close quarters knife fight. It may be inspired by the likes of Oldboy or even Repo Men, but this one held it's own ground through its beautiful (yes it's a little weird using this to describe bloody violence) choreography striking up that sense of all round danger, with Cha going for the jugular with a lesson on anatomy with respect to where major arteries are located, paralyzing his opponents before fatally dealing with some. This culminates in Part B that moved from many to one, to a one on one battle that occasionally puts you in the first person's perspective.
Those scenes alone will be reason enough to watch this for a second time, and for fans of the revenge thriller flicks, The Man From Nowhere sets to deliver the no BS, dead serious treatment that will leave you applauding each time any bad guy bites the dust. Recommended!