The Man From Nowhere
Directed by Lee Jeong-beom
Starring Won Bin & Kim Sae-ron
Running time 119min
Think really hard about the last time you saw a good action flick from Hollywood, a film that delivered on all of your expectations and left you completely satisfied. Could you name even one that wasn’t more than 9 months old? I know I can’t, and while Sylvester Stallone made an admirable attempt at reviving the genre this past summer with The Expendables, his 80’s action-homage to all things testosterone, I can’t really say it left the indelible impression that The Man From Nowhere did.
Won Bin earns every bit of the fan-hysteria currently surrounding him with the performance of a mysterious pawn shop owner who attempts to distance himself from his adoring 8-year-old neighbor who is simply looking for a friend. The girl’s mother is engaged in drug trafficking, naturally leading to the most dire of consequences and leaving the little girl as a valuable commodity for the criminal syndicate. Of course, Won Bin’s world-weary character is revealed to be quite skilled in the art of murdering people with Jason Bourne-like reflexes, and is prompted to strike a violent path towards getting the girl back.
If this sounds like the formula for more than a few action films that you’ve seen in the past, that’s because it is. Director Lee Jeong-beom utilizes a technical ability and stylistic fluency that gives a soulful savageness to every action sequence. The narrative structure might not be a game-changer, but it hits all of the right dramatic beats, the sympathetic nature of the characters is always the driving force behind the awesome gunfights and hand-to-hand combat. Creating a solid action film almost seems to be a lost art these days, yet the science behind it has always been the simplest of techniques; present characters that we can care about and root for and place them in a situation that is straightforward enough to move the action along from points A through C. Director Lee clearly understands this, and because he isn’t out to reinvent the wheel, he succeeds immensely in crafting an action-thriller that is paced and plotted to near perfection. The Man From Nowhere is the best. action-blockbuster I’ve seen all year.
I Saw the Devil
Directed by Kim Ji-woon
Starring Lee Byung-hun & Choi Min-sik
Running time 144min
Kim Ji-woon is one of my favorite genre directors. Crafting a masterpiece with 2005’s gangster film, A Bittersweet Life, and delivering divine escapist entertainment with The Good, The Bad, The Weird, Kim Ji-woon has established himself as one of Korea’s most eclectic auteurs. I Saw the Devil is his latest foray into genre, and it has been both lauded and panned by critics and audiences alike. It stands as one of the boldest and most controversial works put forth by any Korean director, and this is in a country which is home to the likes of Park Chan-wook and Kim Ki-duk. I Saw the Devil was plagued with issues over its rating, standing to lose a theatrical release, forcing Kim Ji-woon to make drastic edits. The resulting theatrical cut was still considered to be abhorrently violent, appalling Korean audiences who deemed it to be “too cruel”. Consider that what most people saw was the watered-down version, and now imagine what the intended director’s cut must be like. I was pleased to be able to view the un-edited, unrated version during PIFF, and can certainly see why some people would have trouble with this one.
I Saw the Devil is a violent revenge tale that stars Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik as a derranged and merciless serial-killer whose methods would be enough to make Jeffrey Dahmer stop and say “Whoa, too much!”
Choi Min-sik’s performance is unsettling, to say the least, as he revels in the butchering of a girl who turns out to be the fiance of an NIS agent played by Lee Byung-hun. From this point on, Lee Byung-hun dedicates his performance to the slow mental decay of a man who will lose his soul in his quest for vengeance, playing a dangerous game of catch-and-release with the killer in an attempt to make him suffer. The film is in a constant state of escalation, always outdoing its previous act of violence and brutality. This is easily one of the most violent films I have ever seen. Looking past its gory layers, however, reveals a film that actually works as a character study of two men whose fates are intertwined and are set on a self-destructive collision course. The final moments are astonishing, revealing, and tragic. If you’re not squeamish and have no trouble handling violence of this magnitude, you owe it to yourself to see one of the better entries into the serial-killer genre.
You can read more of Thomas' film reviews here.