Most people, when asked to provide the best Korean film in modern times, would probably answer Oldboy or Parasite. Others might respond Memories of Murder or Train to Busan. Maybe A Tale of Two Sisters or The Wailing. I, on the other hand, always respond with the same title, The Man from Nowhere, which to this point in the US has only been released on Blu-ray from Well Go. That Blu-ray was also the victim of a bunch of discs from Well Go that came away with a quick dose of rot, infecting my copy as well as many others. For the last couple of years, I’ve been working with a bootleg, which I’m not exactly proud of, but felt necessary because I loved this film so much. However, that changed, as Well Go has released a 4Kcopy of this sensational film (and also of The Wailing, which I will get to later in the week). I thankfully received it a little bit earlier than expected and took it for a spin. Let’s see how it does.
Kim Chi-Gon (played by Kim Tae-hoon) lights a cigarette and calls his squad into position. The crew of police detectives and squad members wake up and talk about their plan. They have been at this stakeout for two months and can’t afford to mess this up.
Meanwhile, back at the club, we get a lively scene with Hyo-Jeong (played by Kim Hyo-seo) dancing for the paying customers. The target, Bear (played by Sang-Kyeong Son) enters the club and has the package ready for drop-off. The police squad is now in position and ready to take the drop as needed once it leaves the hands of the giant bodyguard. The drop is made, but the person who made the drop is tasered by Hyo-Jeong in the back. The police’s cover is eventually blown, and the police have to take on Bear anyway. Bear takes out a few of the junior officers before being taken down by Chi-Gon, who arrests him.
Later that night, Hyo-Jeong celebrates with drugs and alcohol. We shift to the marketplace where we are introduced to Cha Tae-sik (played by Won Bin), who is squeezing a bunch of fruits, trying to figure out which one is the best. After getting yelled at by the shopkeeper (“You Squeeze It, You Buy It!”), he also picks up some flowers on his way back to his apartment. He gets to the base level of his apartment building and sees someone moving in the shadows. He yells, “Come out or I will kill you!” But instead of some thug, it’s actually a little girl named So-Mi (played by Kim Sae-ron).
Cha Tae-sik actually works out of a low-key pawn shop inside the apartment building but does eventually open up his residence so he and the girl can share a meal. She tells him that her mother says he is a bad person and wants to know about his checkered past. Unfortunately the pawn shop owner keeps mum about such events and keeps the conversation at a basic level. However, the mother soon gets home, and we learn that So-Mi’s mom is actually Hyo-Jeong, who is still high and hung over from her late-night affair.
We also soon learn that the package is actually high-grade opium. In an attempt to stash it away from the police as well as those who she stole it from, she stashes it away in a case that she pawns off to Cha Tae-sik. But the police aren’t the ones to really worry about. Bear is eventually released from police holding and gets back to his boss, Oh Myung-gyu (played by Young-chang Song). Myung-gyu is absolutely furious that this high-grade opium was stolen and enlists his subordinate brothers, Jong-seok (played by Kim Sung-oh) and Man-seok (played by Kim Hee-won) to find the person responsible.
Hyo-Jeong is in some massive trouble, and so is putting her daughter in harm’s way. This of course ultimately brings the attention of Cha Tae-sik, who can only stay out of the action for so long, as his “checkered past” is soon known to the police and the viewers. We get some amazing sequences of action that really crank up our pulses, as Tae-sik is well versed in martial arts and gunplay. However, it’s the heartwarming relationship that develops between himself and So-Mi that is the core of the film, which works up to an awesome finale that won’t have a dry eye in the house after it’s said and done. It is very reminiscent of the French film Leon, or the American title, The Professional.
The rogue’s gallery of villains are very well done and have a wide variety of emotions and personalities. Besides the ones mentioned above, I think I most enjoyed Ramrowan (played by Thanayong Wongtrakul), who apparently has a wealth of experience and is the only one who can come close to Cha Tae-sik’s ability. I must also mention that The Man from Nowhere is a dark film full of disturbing violence and events that very much lives up to its “R” rating. The viewer might especially want to turn away when they open the trunk.
The video is in 2.39:1 widescreen in HEVC / H.265, but this is unfortunately an up-scaled presentation on a BD-66 disc and includes HDR10. The mbps seems to hover around the 50’s for the most part when it is a non-action scene. Action/dark scenes can generate as much as 60 and 70 mbps, with even an occasional spike for a second or two around 80 (for some reason, the hot tub scene was close to that exact amount) . If I had to guess an eyeball average, I would put this in low to mid 60’s mbps.
Personally, I was not a big fan of the original Blu-ray release of this film. It felt muddy at times, and the bit rate was abysmal with a 2-hour movie on a BD-25 disc. It has certainly been cleaned up here, and the result is an extremely crisp disc where the HDR really pops the presentation. Despite the drab circumstances that the film often finds itself in, the film is rich in color, and not only with the day bright scenes either. Outside and interior scenes are both intense and full of detail. The darks are often the best part of video, where the shadows are rich with depth and there is no illusion as to what exactly is going on in some of the scenes. This is an excellent presentation and should receive high marks all the way around. I really wish Well Go would have shown the same attention to the Audio and Special Features.
The audio for this one is Dolby DTS HD 5.1 (Korean) along with an English dub track. Subtitles are also provided in English. One might ask themselves: I see ATMOS on the back of this cover, where is my ATMOS track? If you find it, please let me know, because it is nowhere on this disc. The two audio tracks provided are the same ones that were on the Blu-ray and have no discernible difference from their counterpart. The Blu-ray also has 2.0 English and Korean tracks as needed.
Thankfully, the track was already quite good to begin with. It’s loud, and the action scenes come away with a lot of depth and excellent use of the surround field. I found myself at low levels still having to turn it down sometimes because the sound was so intense. If you need further proof, check out the dance scene from the beginning of the film or the garbage truck crash at a certain other point in the movie. Really excellent use of the environment, and the subwoofer provides range as well. Dialog is crisp and clear; no issues to speak of. The only negatives might come at the expense of the subtitles. I have harped on this before, but when English is being spoken in the movie, provide English subtitles. Instead, we get automatic Korean subtitles. Subs are not just for translation in Asian films.
- Making Of 17:23: This is your standard behind-the-scenes featurette. We get a lot of directing the action; we get some comments about the film and how they shot certain sequences. It even looks like Kim Sae-ron (who plays So-Mi) experienced a bloody nose during production. Interesting note, but near the end of the featurette, the director, Lee Jeong-beom makes the comment, “I hope she grows up well.” Seemingly innocent at the time, I’m sure. However, in May of 2022, Kim found herself in a drunk driving scandal. She lost out on many acting roles during this time (as she was considered quite the darling in K-dramas to this point), and reportedly had financial troubles (which has been disputed as well). It’s a shame; Kim really had amazing heart and passion for her role during this film.
- Highlights 5:11: This made me laugh in a bad way. It’s supposed to be a promotional-type featurette where they highlight certain scenes and the audience is supposed to be wowed. But it’s five minutes long, in standard definition, and is a complete throwaway by most accounts. It’s times like this when I wish Bey Logan still did commentaries.
- There is a Teaser and Trailer also provided to round this out.
- NOTE: Only the Blu-ray has the extra features. Initial pressings of this title do come with a slipcover.
As a reward of sorts for reading this far, I am going to recommend three Korean films that you might not be aware of but should check out. They are New World, The Burning, and The Gangster, The Cop and the Devil. The last one is not a misprint and is actually supposed to be remade at some point and will involve Mr. Sylvester Stallone’s production house, Balboa Productions. Anyway, The Man From Nowhere takes a relatively simple plot and drives it home with fantastic performances from Won Bin and Kim Sae-ron. The villains are also top notch. I was especially impressed with Thanayong Wongtrakul’s portrayal of Ramrowan, as he was clearly there for more than his fancy knife moves. It is the best Korean film I have ever seen and is way more than a basic action film.
The 4K disc is excellent when it comes to picture, as it improves dramatically over the old Blu-ray that also comes housed in this release. (And hey, this Blu-ray disc isn’t rotten, either). The minor disappointment comes from the false advertising in the lack of ATMOS. The 5.1 track imported from the Blu-ray is still impressive, but this is one of those situations where we wonder what could have been. The inclusion of ATMOS here could have turned this release into one of the best of the year. As such, this still gets an extremely heavy recommendation. It’s an amazing film and one that I have seen several times and has lost no intensity in any of the follow up screenings. If you are still unsure about this film, go watch it on Tubi, Pluto, or Peacock for free. Even then, I think most will still pick up this 4K release. Enjoy.