You read that title right. The 2010 Korean blockbuster and award winning film Ajusshi (international title: The Man From Nowhere) is a dark, violent and thrilling film that, maybe unexpectedly, contains a big amount of heart and sincerity.
I’ve been meaning to watch this film for a while now, what with it being the highest grossing film in Korea for 2010 and after taking home a slew of trophies at home and abroad. And thanks to my brand new Xbox and some internet program/website thing called Netflix, I finally got the chance to experience what ended up being a surprisingly satisfying thriller that had me in tears at the end.
Ajusshi/The Man From Nowhere tells the story of Cha Tae-sik (played by Won Bin, one of Korea’s most popular stars) a quiet and loner former top secret agent, now pawnshop owner who gets pulled into the seedy drug and human trafficking underworld to save his only friend, a 10 year old little girl named So Mi (Kim Sae Ron).
The film starts off brisk and even at a runtime of almost two hours, Ajusshi/The Man From Nowhere moves quickly through punch after punch. Won Bin helps make the two hours pass by quickly with his reserved portrayal of a lonely man quietly holding in his painful past. You immediately connect with him and with his friendship with neighbor, the little So Mi. Kim Sae Ron is a fresh little talent that also equally gets you to care about her character right off the bat.
The film is definitely not for the faint of heart. It has a dark, grimy, seedy backdrop of the drug and human trade in Asia. The rage and vengeance that grows in Tae-sik as the movie rolls along adds even more to that foreboding and often bloody atmosphere. But that’s what makes the unexpected heart and sincerity all the more, well, unexpected.
You’ve got to have a deft hand to be able to balance what would appear to be such contrasting themes, to have such a hopeful and touching undercurrent run through a film set in the midst of drugs and violence. But writer and director Lee Jeong-beom does just that. The excellent cinematography, most especially in a scene where the camera is step by step with Tae-sik as he jumps out of a window and lands right on the ground below, resonates to give the film its gritty essence. An excellently shot and well choreographed knife fight is also a highlight (and the bloodiest) of the film.
Ajusshi/The Man From Nowhere has thrilling chases, exciting fight and action scenes, juicy and affecting twists and that heart-tugging sincerity that just explodes at you in the film’s final scenes.
It only takes one little flashback to help you understand the friendship Tae-sik has with So Mi and what compels him to go to great and bloody lengths to save her. Never have I shed a tear at the end of a bloody action thriller that isn’t about a war. And I’m not afraid to admit that.
The final scenes in particular were some of the best MaGMCs (Make a Grown Man Cry Moments) I have ever seen. And that is a testament to the writing, directing, and the stellar performances from Won Bin and Kim Sae Ron. I dare anyone not to feel a little tug on their heartstrings at the end of the film.
Ajusshi/The Man From Nowhere is a completely satisfying and thrilling ride through revenge and hope and it is clear to see why so many people absolutely loved this film.