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“The Man From Nowhere,” Reviewed

“The Man From Nowhere,” Reviewed (photo)

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On the basis of its three films at Fantastic Fest, I think it’s time someone had a talk with South Korea about its self-image problem. This country is making some phenomenal movies but boy is it down on itself. The Korean contingent at this festival portrays itself as a place where everyone is either a vicious bloodthirsty psychopath or an innocent victim waiting to be defiled by a vicious bloodthirsty psychopath. Consider the brutal revenge thriller “The Man From Nowhere.” The title suggests Leone, but Leone never made something this bleak, unless my memory’s hazy and “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly” included a subplot about Eastwood trying to shut down a child organ harvesting ring.

The Eastwood figure here is named Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin). His foo-foo haircut and rippling physique scream K-pop star, but the jagged scars on his knuckles whisper something in your ear about a violent past. Cha lives a quiet life as the most intense pawn shop owner in history until the day the adorable little girl who lives upstairs is kidnapped by drug dealers angry with her mother for stealing their product. The gangsters blackmail Cha, then frame him and leave him for the cops but Cha busts out of jail and goes on a quest to save his neighbor and make the people who took her pay.

Note that he doesn’t wait to prove his innocence (which probably wouldn’t be that difficult). Cha, like basically everyone else in the Korean movies I saw here at Fantastic Fest, has no faith in the police. Cops in these films are inadequate to the needs of society. If you want to get something done, you better be ready to do it yourself. And you better not be afraid to spill some blood. And I mean a lot of blood. If “The Man From Nowhere,” “I Saw the Devil,” and “Bedevilled” are any indication and the laws of supply and demand mean anything at all, Karo syrup must be the most valuable commodity in all of Korea.

Unlike “I Saw the Devil,” which mucks around with revenge picture’s standard format and morality, “The Man From Nowhere” basks in the conventions of the genre. What elevates the typical material is the atypical ferocity of its execution. At one point, Cha takes out one of the gangsters’ facilities by rigging a slow gas leak and setting off an enormous explosion. The gesture feels symbolic of Cha and the film’s rage about the crappy state of the world, as pressure building slowly to a massive white-hot eruption. This is an angry movie about an angry man, but the intensity of Won Bin’s performance makes Cha an easy guy to root for. Won’s tremendous, and he’s even better when you realize that he’s the same actor who played the mentally handicapped son in Bong Joon-ho’s “Mother.” Won is clearly more than a one trick pony of smolder and rage.

“The Man From Nowhere” is directed by Lee Jung-beom. I’ll be looking forward to whatever he makes next. There are scenes — a Leone-esque standoff across a crowded techno club, a savage knife fight — and shots — Cha runs through a hallway, dives through a window, and jumps to the street below and the camera follows him the whole way — that have already taken permanent residence in the Movie Hall of Fame section of my brain. Maybe someday American audiences will get to see the lighter side of Korean cinema. In the meantime, there’s no denying these dark films’ power. The man might be from nowhere, but the movies could only come from Korea.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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