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  Gangster, the Cop, the Devil, The Strange Deadfellows
Year: 2019
Director: Lee Won-Tae
Stars: Ma Dong-seok, Kim Mu-yeol, Sung-kyu Kim, Heo Dong-won, Seung-mok Yoo, Kim Gyu-ri, Choi Min-chul, Oh Hee-joon, Yoon-seong Kim, Lee Seo-hwan, Yoo Jae Myung, Seong-hyeon Ryoo
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: South Korea, 2005, and many of the police are as corrupt as the gangsters they are supposed to be policing, but detective Suk Jung-tae (Kim Mu-yeol) does his level best to stay on the straight and narrow, even if that means diverting from the cases his boss sets him on to work out investigations of his own. Meanwhile, gang boss Jang Dong-soo (Ma Dong-seok) is locked in conflict with a rival over his territories, and the last thing he needs is Suk poking his nose in where it is not wanted, but the gangsters are not the only criminals in this city. The detective realises as he is called to a crime scene on the highway that the murder there is not some hit, nor a hit and run, but a random murder.

We were in serial killer mode once again for this South Korean action thriller, one which was distinguished, in Hollywood terms at least, by one of its producers: Sylvester Stallone, who was working to build his production company's portfolio by remaking this in the United States, presumably reasoning that while there was a healthy following for East Asian action flicks in the West, there was a healthier following for such items without subtitles and in English. Lee Won-Tae was the man at the helm with only his second film as director, but you could scarcely imagine a Western director doing a more capable job as he did with the self-penned material he had here.

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil leaned heavily on its central gimmick, which was the first two people in that title were teaming up to catch the third person once they realised they both had good reason to see him behind bars, or indeed dead. For Jang it is personal, as what appears to be a serial killer targeted him in what was initially supposed to be a gang hit, but quickly turns into something more unusual, as nobody owns up to the attack on him, which he survives with a few cuts and an anger that anyone would put him in the position of having to fight for his life. Suk, in the meantime, is piecing the clues together and trying to convince his narrow-minded bosses of the serial killer.

The two professional antagonists are aware of each other, but decide to set aside their differences nevertheless for the sake of doing what is right, and besides, Suk is one of those maverick cops who littered the action cinema no matter where you were in the world, you know, the loose cannons who play by their own rules but get results. Most of the time you could write these plots yourself, but in this instance it was lifted by a couple of very decent performances, with Ma Dong-seok making a bid for international stardom after his breakthrough role in Train to Busan, and with a Marvel movie lined up once he had finished with this project. He made an amusingly spiky double act with Kim Mu-yeol, whose character's integrity merely gets him beaten up regularly, though he can give as good as he gets.

Although there were twists and turns to the storyline, it was in truth a little too straightforward to take its position as one of the best of its kind: it was no I Saw the Devil, for example, which would appear to have been an influence. Still, it powered along and was never boring, with the cast bringing a personality to something that could have been by the numbers and the manner in which it erupted into violence was diverting enough, even if those setpieces tended to be a bunch of Korean guys knocking seven shades out of their opponents in mass brawls. As you might expect, there was a car chase too and that did the business, but the killer was eventually revealed as one of those criminal masterminds who make the protagonists and society question their morality and all that jazz, a bit of a letdown once we got to that stage. Though the punchline to all this mayhem was perfectly reasonable and brought out the grim sense of humour. Music by Jo Yeong-wook.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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