Based on an apparently true story from 2005, Lee Won-Tae (“Man of Will” 2017) creates a revenge film that crosses the line of morality more than once.
“Who are you?”, asks Jang Dong-Su on a rainy roadside right after he got stab several times by a psychopath. But little did the attacker knew that Jang is the head of a criminal gambling cartel and not easy to subdue. As he manages to escape, Jang begins a race with the cops. Who finds the serial killer first and what fate awaits him then?
The search for the killer’s identity is accompanied by heavy usage of dramatic music, polished camera shots by Se-Seung Park (“High Society” 2018) and trenched in green and blue lightning (just like looking trough Jang Dong-Su’s colored sunglasses). The second feature of Korean director tells a solid crime story. The chemistry between Jang, played by Ma Dong-Seok (“The Outlaws” 2018) and the cop Jung, played by Kim Mu-Yeol (“Forgotten” 2017), is convincing.
Most of the movie’s momentum is fueled by the bratty aura of Ma Dong-Seok. His brutality, rawness and pure physical presence are impressive and radiate enormous corporeality that labels the whole film. Kim Mu-Yeol on the other side is bursting with arrogance, which is sometimes too much and overacted. In the police station and on the crime scene, he puts on a one-man show. His performance overshadows his colleagues, who are only part of the decoration. These two alpha males interact well together and supplement each other. Hero and anti-hero at close quarters.
As the hunt continues, we are confronted with some gory scenes. Tooth pulling and some ugly beatings spice up the atmosphere, that often tends to lose its gloominess and drifts into a lighthearted buoyancy. But near the end “The Gangster, the Cop, and the Devil” gets back on track. Topnotch action scenes and pointed jokes hit the right spots.
The editing is on point and gives us an all-embracing overview of the given situation. As in many other Korean thrillers, the little backside streets of Seoul are used once again as setting for the final chase and create a confusing labyrinth that sucks in the protagonists as well as the audience.
The killer, portrayed by Kim Sung-Kyu (“Kingdom” 2019), is a creepy psychopath with no morality. He always wears a smile and feels pleasure in his killings. We do not get to know a deeper backstory of his character nor his motive. But as the revenge finally is about to happen, the movie pushes the emotional level up and we cannot await the final punishment. These final sequences are the most memorable ones. Director Lee Won-Tae shows genuine talent by inflicting his characters deeper and deeper with the craving for retribution.
“The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil” is a well-crafted thriller, not a masterpiece though, but primarily a testimony of the power of the physical performance of Ma Dong-Seok. It will be also a pleasure to see the planned US-remake by another formfitting actor – Sylvestor Stallone.