Both are stunning, one particularly for its Tarentinoesque violence, the other for its mix of murder, madness and heavy doses of magical realism.
Fan rankings suggest that Man From Nowhere might be the more accessible of the two by mainstream audiences. A pretty standard “heroic plot,” a mysterious young man with a dark and tragic past just wants to live his simple, anonymous, solitary life. A drug-addicted neighbor and her all-but-abandoned daughter don’t set out to destroy this man’s brooding personal exile, but of course….
With the blood and guts level extraordinarily high and the story-line standard with what seems like a forced, sappy, Hollywood ending, Man From Nowhere is nonetheless a very well constructed product perhaps even flawless to that end. Actor Won Bin is magnetic, especially as the mysterious “pawnbroker.” Some of the attraction — and mood — is lost as he is transformed into a slick assassin for a non-stop, violent crescendo.
Less celebrated and less financially successful, Private Eye is my favorite of the two. Admittedly, we move from a Jackie Chan comedy to a Federico Fellini vision. What works for me, though, is that this is innovative, imaginative filmmaking. In this charming period piece, a powerful official’s son is missing, well actually dead, a fact not in evidence yet. A young, terribly naïve, medical student practices on the cadaver he found in the woods and is now fearful he will be charged with murder. He hires the P.I. to find the real killer. There’s this circus and morphine and possibly the start of international opium wars. And then the King of England shows up.
Credit for this action, buddy movie has to go to cinematographer Choe Chan-min, director Park Dae-min and actors Hwang Jung-min and Ryu Deok-hwan
For your evening libation, you might consider a Midori sour, made with sweet melon liqueur. It is a popular choice in the region. In one of Seoul’s trendy, young neighborhoods, it is reported that take-out drinks are served in IV bags, more than fitting for the first film. For the second, chill on some comfortable pillows.