Won-Tae Lee’s Korean action movie – The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil – arrives in UK cinemas this Friday, and here’s our review.
Making its UK debut at Nottingham’s Mayhem Film Festival in October was The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil, the sophomore directorial effort of Won-Tae Lee. His previous project was the inspiring 2017 historical drama Man Of Will, but he’s chosen an entirely different direction here, constructing a terrific – if wildly violent – Korean actioner, and bringing together the scenery-chewing Dong-seok Ma (Train To Busan) as local crime boss Jang Dong-soo, and Mu-Yeol Kim (Forgotten) as the overly enthusiastic policeman keen to finally catch him in the act.
He gets a vital opportunity to do so when a chance encounter with a ruthless serial killer ends in serious bloodshed for Jang, and the pair tentatively agree to team up and track down the sadistic menace terrorising the city, though neither is entirely confident about what the ultimate results of this tumultuous partnership might be as the two games of cat and mouse play out simultaneously.
It all makes for an enjoyable caper. There’s a lot of love for the 90s buddy cop genre woven into the script, and Lee manages to skilfully balance laugh-out-loud comedy moments with thrilling action by keeping the plot simple and letting Ma off the chain to be a typically enigmatic presence – despite gleefully embracing the role of a brutal underworld kingpin, you just can’t help rooting for him. Admittedly, most of the other characters are lightly sketched, but there’s always another deftly edited bit of action just around the corner to yell in your ear that it doesn’t really matter.
The film has a few problems – female characters pop up only occasionally, either to be victims or to be taken advantage of, and the portrayal of the country’s legal system, which surely wouldn’t have respected any of this murky teamwork or its machinations in the first place, feels at best unnecessary and at worst ludicrous. But it remains such a lot of fun throughout its 150-minute running time, it’s hard to feel too bothered.
Try to catch this before the US remake emerges (Sylvester Stallone has snapped up the rights) and before Ma becomes an even bigger star when the Marvel logo unfolds ahead of his appearance in Eternals next year.
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