Won Bin moves to the dark side

2010-07-28 15:44

 Won Bin’s heartthrob’s pretty boy image is shattered, tossed out, and forever lost buried under the pile of blood splattered bodies in his latest film “The Man from Nowhere” (Korean title “Ajeossi”) ― an ultra-violent ode to the hard boiled American grindhouse pictures of the 1970s.

As if channeling the spirit of Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, Won goes on a one-man vendetta slicing, stabbing, shooting, blowing up an entire cadre of pimps, pushers, and organ harvesters to save a young girl from captivity.

For many of his fans, he may never again be seen as the clean cut, sensitive fellow from such saccharine television dramas as “Autumn in my heart.”

This film is his grand send off of the character archetype that had served him so well for an entire decade and his transition into the dark side is quite convincing.

During Tuesday’s press screening, gasps and yelps were heard sporadically from female viewers as if they were unprepared to see such carnage on the big screen.

Perhaps the shock effect was magnified as a large portion of the unflinching violence came from Won’s character, the mercilessly cruel Tae-sik ― a former special agent with a harrowing past.

The film’s bloody content may turn off some fans that are not too keen on excessive screen violence, but helping alleviate some of the carnage is the stirring depiction of the film’s two social outcasts that lies at the heart of the picture.

The scenes involving Tae-sik and the little girl are ones full of charm and warmth so that once the body count begins you can’t help but root for this mad man to get her back in his loving embrace.

And since the source of his rage comes from his mission to save her from the lowest depth of the criminal underworld, it doesn’t feel too bad seeing the baddies get their comeuppance in many creatively masochistic ways.

“Of course this is an action film, but it was vital for me to amplify Tae-sik’s emotional consciousness after he loses the young girl,” Won said of his role during the post-screening Q&A session.

“He’s a man who has willingly cut himself off from the world because of his tragic past and it was only because of this neighborhood girl he gets back in touch with his own humanity and that was the driving force behind my performance in the film.”

When the announcement was made earlier this year of Won’s casting as a hardened tough guy, many eye brows were raised.

Not many had expected him to be able to pull off a character that is so dramatically different from what he had been known for previously.
Kim Se-ron (left) and Won Bin, stars of director Lee Jung-beoms ultra-violent vendetta film “The Man from Nowhere” speak during the postscreening press conference Tuesday at the CGV Wangsimni in Seoul.                                                                                             Yonhap News

Last year, in what seemed to many industry insiders like a trial run, his plunge into character acting began with Bong Joon-ho’s critically acclaimed thriller “Mother.”

In the film, he portrayed the mentally challenged son of the title character, a role which won him mild praise.

While largely admired by critics for his decision to take on such an unglamorous role, many were not convinced, citing that he still retained the boyish charms of the previous characters he’s played in both film and television.

Even as Tae-sik in “The Man from Nowhere,” there are inevitable shots of his face that could easily be used in a fashion magazine spread, but what can you do when you were born with that kind of face?

There’s only so much you can do with hair and make-up to de-prettify a pretty face.

And the film does stumble with exactly that early on when Won is seen sporting a scruffy do that is supposed to make him look unsightly and disheveled but in fact looks as though he got done up by a professional stylist.

But this isn’t a film that concerns his much touted looks. It is a straight forward revenge fantasy made with bold bloody strokes by director Lee Jung-beom.

The action comes hard, fast, and furiously.

Scenes involving close quarters hand-to-hand combat are bone crunchingly fierce, and without a doubt inspired by the Bourne franchise. And the various knife duels between Tae-sik and the South Asian henchman of the main baddie are c intense.

“We prepared a lot before shooting began so we were fortunate enough to complete the film without any accidents or injuries,” Won said.

“But there were some hairy moments during the filming of the climactic fight scene which involved my character taking on a gang of thugs.”

“It was a scene that involved the use of a lot of knives and everyone was just swinging away and I was extremely careful not to myself cut in the eye and face,” he added.

Director Lee said of Won’s performance, “Those who saw the film will know better that it was evident on screen how much preparation and hard work (Won Bin) put into this role and how difficult it must have been physically for him,” and added “but with this film, it wasn’t just the physical aspects of his performance that he overcame, he also overcame the concerns voiced by his critics on whether he could pull off such an emotionally complex role.”

“The Man from Nowhere” opens nationwide on Aug. 4.

By Song Woong-ki (kws@heraldcorp.com)
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