Billed as a mash-up between Oldboy and Taken, Korean revenge movie The Man From Nowhere (eOne) has a lot to live up to. But does Jeong-beom Lee’s violent thriller have what it takes to follow in its predecessors’ blood-stained footprints?
Despite the Taken/Oldboy comparisons The Man From Nowhere feels closer in tone to films like Leon and Man On Fire, as reclusive ex-special forces agent Tae-shik (Bin Won) forms an unlikely friendship with Som-mi (Sae-ron Kim), a lonely young girl ignored by her drug-addicted exotic dancer mother. When So-mi’s mother rips off a dealer’s stash, the pair find themselves kidnapped by mobsters, and the reluctant Tae-shik is drawn into the Korean underworld against his better judgement. He agrees to act as an intermediary between rival drug dealers in exchange for the safe return of the girl, but the meeting is a set-up, and Tae-shik quickly finds himself hauled in for questioning by sceptical cops.
After an intriguing but slightly sluggish first half, The Man From Nowhere explodes into life after an hour when Tae-shik escapes from the police and embarks on an increasingly fraught quest to track down the missing girl. The deeper Tae-shik stumbles into the investigation, the darker the proceedings get, and the reluctant tough-guy finds himself drawn into a conspiracy involving subterranean drug-labs and black-market organ transplants. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Tae-shik is inevitably forced to embrace the violent life he left behind in order to vanquish his enemies. As the body-count rises, the movie builds up to a dazzling crescendo of violence that peaks with a vicious, blood-streaked ensemble knife-fight. Although it isn’t perfect, The Man From Nowhere is a slick, distinctive thriller elevated to the next level by the intensity of its fight scenes. Brutal, impressive stuff.
Set in a bleak dystopian future Death Notice: Ikigami (MVM) offers a chilling glimpse into an alternative reality where all Japanese children are inoculated on their first day of school, but one in every thousand contains a lethal nano-capsule. Each capsule will end the individual’s life at some pre-ordained point -between the ages of 18 and 24 -allegedly in the interests of ‘national prosperity’. Prior to their termination, these unfortunate citizens are given 24 hours’ notification of their impending demise in the form of an ‘Ikigami’, or death notice, which allows them one day to say goodbye to their friends and loved ones, and settle any outstanding affairs. During this 24-hour period the incumbent will receive government-funded privileges such as free food and travel, with a lump-sum passing to their bereaved family after their death, as compensation. However, should the individual attempt to resolve a feud by killing someone, the compensation will be forfeited and given to the victim’s family instead.
The story unfolds through the eyes of Kengo Fujimoto (Shota Matsuda), a rookie civil servant who is tasked with delivering the death notices. Kengo harbours grave reservations about the National Prosperity Law, but is afraid to speak out for fear of being charged with ‘thought crimes’ by the state. Troubled by the inherent moral dilemma, Kengo is compelled to become emotionally involved with the first three recipients of his Ikigami, which only succeeds in complicating his inner turmoil further. With an arresting premise and a sure-footed narrative arc, Death Notice: Ikigami is a bleak, evocative and largely well-crafted psychological drama. It may have languished unreleased since 2008, but that is no reflection of its quality, and fans of bleak Japanese dramas will find plenty to enjoy here.
Originally titled A Woman, A Gun & A Noodle Shop, Zhang Yimou’s Blood Simple (Momentum) is a bizarre remake of the Coen brothers’ superb neo-noir debut of the same name. The 1984 crime drama is one of the Coen brothers’ starkest, darkest thrillers, but Zhang Yimou -director of Hero, House of Flying Daggers and The Curse of the Golden Flower -has transformed it into a flamboyant, colour-drenched spectacle that is largely unrecognisable from the original. Curmudgeonly Wang owns a noodle shop in a small desert town, and routinely short-changes his hard-working employees. His abusive behaviour has driven his young wife into an illicit relationship with Li, one of his employees, but Wang rumbles their affair, and enlists a local patrol officer to murder the two lovers. The cop turns the tables on his pay-master with an unexpected double-cross, and, as in the original, bloody mayhem ensues.
The Coens carved their impressive reputation by blending farcical slapstick comedy with grisly violence in movies such as The Big Lebowski, but Yimou’s attempt to merge the two disparate styles frequently feels like a horribly misjudged exercise in fandom. The first half of the movie is surreally bad, and although it picks up dramatically midway through, the battle has already been lost by that point. Considering the Coen brothers once inflicted a dire remake of The Ladykillers on the film-going public, maybe it is best to view Blood Simple as a queasy act of cinematic revenge. Coen fans might enjoy spotting the similarities between the two movies, but there is little genuine pleasure to be found here, and Blood Simple will merely send viewers scrambling in search of the original. Mind-boggling stuff.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (New Wave Films) is the latest film from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose previous credits include Tropical Malady and Blissfully Yours. Uncle Boonmee was a surprise hit at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010, where it scooped the Palm d’Or after impressing the judging panel spearheaded by Tim Burton. A somewhat surprising selection, Uncle Boonmee has subsequently proved to be something of an enigma, dividing critics between rapturous praise and head-scratching bemusement. Title character Uncle Boonmee (played by non-professional Thanapat Saisaymar) is dying of kidney failure, and has decided to spend his final days surrounded by his loved ones in a remote forest, which he believes is an important place from his childhood.
The ailing Boonmee is convinced that the area was the location of some of his former existences, and sure enough both the ghost of his dead wife and the spirit of his long-lost son return to care for him, the latter in non-human form, resembling a dark-haired version of Chewbacca from Star Wars! There is no doubting director Weerasethakul’s rich imagination and uniquely Thai sensibility, but unless you are able to tune into his languid, quasi-magical state of mind, you will find the film seriously hard-going. The director’s unflinching commitment to his vision is admirable, but the bewildering sense of otherworldliness means that Uncle Boonmee is less a film and more of a visual tone poem. As dreamy meditations on life and death go, Uncle Boonmee is certainly distinctive, just not particularly enjoyable