(Jeong Beom Lee, 2010)
The premise is near-parodic in it's generic familiarity; a traumatised ex-Intelligence Operative is just beginning to be drawn out of his depression and mourning by the irrepressible little girl who lives next door when she is abducted by mobsters who kill her junkie mother. He vows to get her back, and he's very very good at violence. From there on in it's mayhem.
But like many Korean genre films, it's the slightly offbeat sensibility and the intensity of the treatment of such cliched material that really makes the film work. The villains are vile; torturing and harvesting organs from children, the group are also given distinctive personalities (partly signalled by a variety of extravagant hairstyles, an emphasis echoed when the heroes final transformation into vengeful killer is signalled by him shaving off his moptop) making their eventual fates much more satisfying. The hero, played by Korean Superstar Bin Won, is a muted presence early on, but his eventual eruption into spectacular, expert violence is nicely played and the actor even makes the film's weakest element - his sentimental emotional breakthrough with the little girl - feel a lot less mawkish than it should.
But it's director Jeong Beom Lee's slick, dark direction that ensures the plot rips along without ever sacrificing any characterisation. His film is full of stunning sequences, including a couple of bravura action scenes - a fantastic final knife fight and the hero versus a roomful of armed mobsters leap immediately to mind - and is always a stylish, visually pleasurable watch. Yet it still feels more soulful and substantial than an American treatment of this material might. In fact, whereas American Action cinema seems to have split into two distinct streams; comprising of the post-Bourne Arthouse Action movie (Joe Wright's Hanna, for instance) and the more simplistic and exploitative popcorn Action movie (a recent example would be Fast Five, say), Korean Action Cinema manages to incorporate both tendencies into single films. The Man from Nowhere is undoubtedly an Action film, but it's never insulting or offensively dumb, and it is shaded an individual enough to remain interesting throughout.