Monday 18 November 2019


Directed by: Lee Won-Tae.Starring: Ma Dong-Seok - aka Don Lee, Kim Mu-Yeol, Kim Sung Kyu. Action thriller, South Korea, 2019, 109mins, Cert 15.

“The real devils are those who commit crimes with kind faces.”

Around the 76-minute mark in Lee Won-Tae’s slick pulsating crime/serial killer hybrid actioner, there’s a brief humorous scene which perfectly encapsulates the film’s premise. Scarred crime lord (the ‘gangster’ of the title) Jang Dong-su (Ma Dong Seok, TRAIN TO BUSAN), stands at a bus-stop in the pouring rain waiting for detective (the ‘cop’) Jung Tae-Seok (Kim Mu-Yeoland) and gives his umbrella to a shivering school girl. When the detective turns up he advises the schoolgirl not to take random things from strangers: “He’s a gangster!” to which the girl responds: “You look more like a gangster than him!”

The moral boundaries between cop and gangster are not merely blurred like the smudged fingertips of serial killer ‘K’ (Kim Sung Kyu), but bludgeoned into a bloody pulp as gangsters teams up with cops to hunt down the devilishly brutal killer. 

Already earmarked by Sylvester Stallone for a Hollywood remake, director Lee Won-Tae delivers a headily entertaining mix of sparring mob rivalry, corrupt police bosses, and a brutal murderer whose modus operandi involves crashing his car into lone motorists before repeatedly stabbing them to death. That is, until he randomly picks on the wrong victim, and sets in motion an extraordinary manhunt involving both sides of the South Korean judicial system.

The uneasy and often queasy alliance between gangster Jang (introduced pulverising a punch-bag containing a rival gang member), and cop Jung (introduced alleviating boredom at being stuck in traffic by marching into a gambling den on a whim because the ‘hooligan’s’ running it ‘need a serious beating’) delivers a fascinating and darkly funny tension.

Director Lee Won-Tae has fashioned a pacy K-cop vehicle for some splendid, ferociously choreographed mayhem as rival gangs bloodily clash, and a stabby killer slices and dices. The courtroom finale seems incongruously restrained in comparison, but it’s a reminder that the script is based on a true story, set in August 2005, and that there is a morality tale here least we temporarily forget it in amongst the kinetic carnage. And then there’s the impish fade-out which earns a wry-smile. 

****(out of 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was first published by FrightFest.