Two Cents Gets Massacred By THE MAN FROM NOWHERE

Revenge is a dish best served by a semi-automatic with at least 10 chambers.

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

In the years following the seminal and violent Korean action-revenge-thriller Oldboy, that multi-hyphenate microcategory erupted into a subgenre unto itself. Most of the films that followed are quite excellent, and it takes a lot to stand out in that crowd. Yet stand out The Man From Nowhere does — a film with an unusual set of ingredients: an enigmatic lead who barely speaks, an emotional throughline about a man and a child united by their inability to fit into society, and a rousing third act that marries bloody violence and melodrama in a way that’s extremely Korean.

(Not that that stopped India from remaking it as Rocky Handsome, or New Line Cinema from trying to line up a US remake.)

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

Speaking of Oldboy, well, the mob has spoken.

The influential revenge classic has resoundingly defeated The Wailing in our readers’’ poll, making it our next pick of our Korean series. Where can you find this cinematic delight? Fret not, it’s streaming on Netflix!

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)!

Our Guest

Brendan Agnew:

I’m not quite sure what I expected from The Man from Nowhere, but what I got was both more disturbing and more impressive than I expected. You’d be forgiven for assuming it’s something in the Taken or John Wick mold (and in the broadest possible “One hyper-capable good guy plowing through an army of bad guys” it kinda is), but it’s also far more than that. There’s a very nasty through-line that reeks under the surface of this movie, not only making you feel utterly vindicated for cheering the ending of the film’s villains, but also feel ultimately uneasy about the possibility of a tidy happy ending to proceedings.

However, it’s still mesmerizing to watch. The film has a slow burn that would be intolerable to Hollywood thrillers, Bin Won has maybe a handful of lines as the enigmatically super-competent Cha Tae-sik, but his body language and half-shrouded glower speaks volumes, and his charisma is immediate. And even though the film tees you up to expect some super tragic backstory, when the curtain is finally pulled back, Won delivers a performance that will pounce on your feelings and rip out your insides.

Shortly before his character does this more or less literally to a whole bunch of bad dudes in a showstopper of a finale.(@BLCAgnew)

The Team

Ed Travis:

Action movies are my apple pie and vanilla ice cream, can’t-go-wrong default; with fight films being my very favorite sub-genre. But “loner with secret military training” films come pretty close. And The Man From Nowhere, with its endearing bond between a little girl in peril and the Pawnshop guy next door, becomes both a fight film and a secret badass film. Throw in some South Korean bleakness and a little K-pop, and you’ve got yourself a Man On Fire / Taken lookalike that is better than either of those films by a mile. Culminating in the greatest knife fight ever committed to film until The Raid 2 took its crown, The Man From Nowhere benefits from a years-later revisit by holding up extremely well outside of that memorable knife fight. There are quirks and details aplenty, and the swelling K-pop gives way to an emotional core that is compelling and tragic, even as the flash and splash of the violence entertains. Director Jeong-beom Lee followed this up with No Tears For The Dead, which wasn’t as iconic, but kicked a lot of ass. Star Won Bin does not appear to have acted again since the 2010 film… where you at, Sir?

Austin Vashaw:

The Man From Nowhere is a movie I’ve wanted to share with the Two Cents club for a long time, and one of our big motivations for doing a Korean series.

This week I sat down to my Blu-ray, eager to finally revisit a film I’d seen only once, but absolutely lost my mind over. Alas, my disc had succumbed to disc rot. Thankfully it’s covered by a replacement plan, but in the meantime I had to spend $3 to rent a movie I already owned. But I’m not mad, for the simple reason that this is a killer film.

It’s got the familiar retired killing machine/one-man-army scenario of western fare like John Wick, Taken, or even Commando, but where those stories have a steady stream of punctuated action, The Man From Nowhere simmers to a boil, peeling back the layers of just how diabolical these bad guys are — child-murdering, drug-making, date-raping, human trafficking, organ stealing, subhuman monsters who NEED TO DIE.

And then obliges them.

I can’t argue with anyone who says it takes an hour to get going, or that the subplot following the cops could use a trim, or that it’s a bit on the melodramatic side (this is a Korean movie, it comes with the territory). But the film’s back half is a breathless and blistering assault that gives the audience exactly what it craves, especially the last half hour or so which is not only as exhilarating and cathartic as anything in modern action cinema, but deeply affecting as well. (@VforVashaw)

Brendan Foley:

The Man from Nowhere is one of those titles that crops up a lot whenever people discuss great modern action cinema. Our own Ed Travis hypes it any chance he can, including in the Two Cents entry above mine. So I was expecting something along the lines of John Wick, a movie that grabs you by the lapels and drags you through astonishing setpiece after astonishing setpiece of virtuoso violence.

That is not what this film is. Pretty slow and deeply sad, The Man from Nowhere is a long leading to a big damn boom, and how you feel about the film will likely depend on how well you think that finale lands. Personally, I was taken aback by just how deliberate the pacing was for much of the duration, but the big action climax was so strong that any reservations I had were obliterated.

Like Train to Busan, the secret weapon of the film is its rather shocking emphasis on the characters and their emotional journeys. Most films with this very familiar set-up treat the subject of rescue/revenge as little more than a MacGuffin with feet. But The Man from Nowhere wants you to invest heavily in the friendship between Cha Tae-sik and the little girl, So-mi, and it puts in the time and effort to make sure that these characters resonate and that we, the audience, care as much about their well-being as they do. It’s a risky gambit, but one that pays off beautifully.

(Sidenote: Between this and Train to Busan, I’m sort of hoping that this Two Cents series is done with small, weeping Korean children. I doubt it, though.) (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Get it at Amazon:
The Man From Nowhere — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Amazon Video]

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Next Week’s Pick:

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