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by Jay Seaver

"Good cop, good cook."
4 stars

There's something almost delightfully random about what becomes a big hit in South Korea, especially based on what tends to export well to the various audiences in North America. This flick, for instance, is a slight action-comedy that seems like it would be a dime a dozen, the sort of movie that has a good opening and then moves aside for the next one. Why has this one hung around? Probably because it gets the basics right and then kicks into gear right at the moments it feels like it should fall apart.

It opens with a five-person narcotics squad led by Captain Ko (Ryoo Seung-ryong) stumbling through a small-time bust, the latest mess that has the superintendent (Kim Eui-sung) ready to disband them. An old classmate gives Ko a tip about a couple of gangsters who have recently returned - Lee Mubae (Shin Ha-kyun) from overseas and Hong Sang-pil (Yang Hyun-min) from jail - to get Ko's team to do surveillance before the bust. The best vantage point happens to be from a run-down fried chicken place that's just about to go out of business, so Ko and his team scrape together enough to buy it. What they don't foresee is that Detective Ma Bong-pal (Jin Seon-kyu) makes a marinade so good that the place becomes a sensation, keeping Ko, Ma, Jang (Lee Ha-nee) and rookie Jae-hoon (Gong-myung) so busy that only Young-ho (Lee Dong-hwi) has much free time for police work.

For a while, it's a funny concept that hits some of the easy gags but hits them squarely and solidly as these misfit cops find themselves both rebelling against playing the part of a family business and also quickly falling into it. Director Lee Byeong-heon and co-writer Bae Se-young know how this part goes, and know the audience knows, so they mostly play things in snappy fashion. Lee and Bae are careful not to overload it too much - they know they need just enough story for the back half to have some momentum, but not so much that other things become important enough to push the jokes aside, or for any supporting character to have that much going on.

The cast is well-chosen for that. Ryoo Seung-ryong gets the most to do and sells it, believably frustrated as a cop and selling the reluctance of his new incarnation as a small businessman, always putting just enough genuine confidence into comedic scenes to sell him as a natural leader, or perking up just enough for it to be funny but not overdone when something other than resignation pops up at home. . He's never quite the straight man but he's good a fun crew around him - Lee Ha-nee as the brusque lady detective, Gong-myung as the overzealous, cheerful rookie, Lee Dong-hwi as the guy ready to explode. Jin Seon-kyu often steals the scenes he's given; his Detective Ma seems the most generally eccentric, and Jin deadpans his way through scenes to make them funny even when the audience is initially more concerned about what's going on with the plot.

A lot of films have all this, and Lobster Cop (a Chinese film close enough in certain details that this is either a remakes or an international franchise) kind of stalled out last year, with this one certainly seeming likely to meet the same fate: It could do with getting where it's going a little faster, with too many characters not doing enough for a while. But then the writers find a good twist, and solving the case becomes as much fun as the high concept, with the whole thing suddenly tied in a nicely absurd little knot. And then it's got a little something extra in reserve, enough to make the finale a fun ol' brawl in a way that this sort of action-comedy doesn't always manage - the last act is filmed with more larger-than-life martial-arts action than the viewer might have expected, but it's just enough not out of nowhere to subliminally make a sort of sense even if it also gets goofy as heck.

By then, Director Lee and his team have fleshed out its fun ensemble, told a bunch of fun jokes and let a peppy soundtrack make it clear just how much freewheeling this is going to get. At no point does it ever feel like it should be a box-office sensation, but it also never feels like less than something a lot of folks might wind up seeing and enjoying. It's deservedly a hit back in its native land, and hopefully will manage to do well internationally, too.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=32817&reviewer=371
originally posted: 02/26/19 10:31:27
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  25-Jan-2019

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A (M)


Directed by
  Byeong-Heon Lee

Written by
  Se-young Bae
  Byeong-Heon Lee

Cast
  Seung-ryong Ryu
  Hanee Lee
  Seon-kyu Jin
  Dong-Hwi Lee
  Gong-Myoung



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