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24 Frames per Second
The Man From Nowhere vs. Taken
"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you." (imdb.com)
These are the famous words of Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA operative who mercilessly rips through kidnappers and human traffickers to save his daughter, in the action film, Taken. This type of film is one of the many reasons my favorite movie genre is action.
There is something so cold and deadly about a man with a gun and revenge on his mind and I am such a sucker for father/daughter relationships. I especially love how Bryan (Liam Neeson), in the movie Taken, put on his cape of ruthlessness like I would imagine the Cape Crusader puts on his cape to fight injustice in the dark of night: Effortlessly. Yet, what makes Bryan so amazing in this particular action film is that he is able to be a desperate father as well as an ice cold machine that could torture a human being and leave it for dead. This dynamic is unique, I feel, to action films and this is why it is my favorite genre of film. It is interesting that a desperate human being could put that desperation and pain aside and focus on the goal in order to take care of a situation. It is fascinating that out of pain can come anger and such targeted ice cold hatred.
Action films also depict what a human being is capable of when cornered. When a human being is cornered, it usually fights until it dies. It becomes a ferocious animal who has nothing to lose. And a man who has nothing to lose can cause untold chaos. This is the type of man seen in the Korean film, The Man from Nowhere. In the film, an ex-Black ops officer, Cha Tae-Sik, turns into a depressed hermit after his wife and unborn child are crushed by a truck driven by one of his enemies. He is only able to watch as this tragic event happens and it is befitting that as he watches he gets shot twice in the chest.
It is a credit to actor Won Bin (Cha Tae-Sik) that he was able to, in that moment in the film, portray utter devastation after realizing and accepting what had just happened. With only his eyes he was able to portray how dead inside he instantly became after witnessing the death of his beautiful, pregnant wife. For the rest of the film, his eyes were so unfeeling that one could feel through the screen that a part of him had been ripped out forever.
After a few years of solitude, Tae-Sik comes alive for a little girl, So-mi (Kim Sae Ron). Her mother is a cocaine addict and a prostitute. So-mi takes comfort from Tae-Sik who reluctantly but lovingly makes her food after school. So-mi is then kidnapped by the drug dealers who provided the cocaine for her mother. After she is kidnapped right in front of Tae-Sik, he goes through a transformation. He cuts his hair, dusts off his gun and he goes after So-mi.
Tae-Sik becomes an animal with dead eyes who just kills with cold precision. The moment when he turns into a ferocious animal is when he is led to believe that So-mi is dead after the head honcho throws her eyeballs at him. In that moment he does not allow himself to break down. Using a gun and a small knife to defend himself, he easily discards the minions and fights his last opponent, who just happens to be the only challenge he encounters in the film. In the battle, Tae-Sik is cold and precise. Yet, as he stabs, claws and bites down on his opponent he looks as fierce as a lion with a gazelle in his mouth. And he never stops, not until his enemy's eyes finally glaze over with death.
The final moment that made this the most amazing action film is when Tae-Sik realizes he killed everyone but realizes it does not matter as he once again failed to protect his loved one. He then gets down on his knees and puts the gun to his head ready to kill himself. But then he hears So-mi's voice. He turns around and there she is safe and sound and he cries in relief. No scene in a movie, not even Rocky reaching the top of the stairs, has ever produced such a passionate jubilation in me.
These types of feelings are rare. I find I can only experience this type of emotion from action films. In these particular films the transformation from a loving, protective father to a cold vindictive killer was very fast and seamless. I like this exploration of what a cornered, desperate human being is fully capable of. The motivation for the actions of Bryan and Tae-Sik in their respective action film is very noble but it is how easily they can flip the switch and suddenly become a ruthless monster that really sets these films apart for me.
I cannot think of any other genre of film that delivers edge-of-your-seat excitement while at the same time providing an insightful look at the human psyche. Can you?