A knife-wielding serial killer (Kim Sung-kyu) in South Korea is committing random violent murders in the dead of night – but when he accidentally targets mob boss Jang Dong-soo (Ma Dong-seok), the gangster survives his stabbing and teams up with cop Jung Tae-suk (Kim Mu-yeol) to hunt the killer down.
It’s obvious why South Korean film The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil has already been flagged for a US remake courtesy of Sylvester Stallone – Lee Won-tae’s slick, zippy action-thriller is the sort of straight-up, mid-budget cops-versus-killer crime movie that Hollywood once churned out, but has shied away from in recent years. Delivered here with a propulsive visual sheen, it’s primed for crossover appeal.
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil
All the information is there in the Ronseal title, referring to the film’s three key players. (The Good, The Bad And The Ugly was apparently already taken). The gangster is the hulking, sharp-suited Jang, played with physical heft by Train To Busan’s break-out star Ma Dong-seok (soon to be seen in Marvel’s Eternals), who hands out beatings with ice-cool aloofness. The cop is Kim Mu-yeol’s Jung, a smirking and sarcastic but good-hearted detective who longs to fight back against the pervasive criminal underworld. And then there’s the ‘devil’ – a motive-free murderer who coaxes his victims into danger by orchestrating minor car accidents. Jung is alone in believing that one of the crime scenes points to an active serial killer on the loose – but when Jang survives an attack from that very same murderer, both sides of the law unite to dish out some payback. Whoever gets there first, gangster or cop, gets to handle the method of justice.
A fast-paced, entertaining thriller buoyed by two engaging leads.
It’s a clean, exciting set-up that Lee wastes no time in establishing, setting a lively pace for the unfolding hunt. Jung and Jang make for a highly watchable duo, their conversations laced with sardonic humour (“I heard you got poked,” Jung says to Jang after the latter’s brutal stabbing) and barely concealed contempt. Kim and Ma’s performances complement each other nicely – the former enjoyably cocky and brash (you could imagine Brad Pitt or Will Smith taking on the role in the ’90s), the latter more powerful and controlled.
It’s visually stylish too, doused in neon and atmospheric lighting captured by Park Se-seung’s clean, vibrant cinematography. The action, occasionally lost in a slightly choppy edit, is mostly good – especially some larger-scale beat-downs as the criminal gangs turn against each other, in a side-plot that intrudes a little too much on the more streamlined serial killer thread. A final act car chase is particularly well handled as the film hurtles towards its conclusion, leading to a protracted final reel that slightly overstays its welcome as it unfurls its final twists. There’s not much going on beneath the energetic surface, but for the most part The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is a fast-paced, entertaining thriller buoyed by two engaging leads. Don’t mess it up in translation, Sly.
What it lacks in depth, it makes up for with style, well-handled action, and an entertaining central duo. More proof, if needed, that Ma Dong-seok is a star.