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Gangster, the Cop, the Devil, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Listed in order of interest."
3 stars

Sylvester Stallone has optioned "The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil" for an American remake intended to return Ma Dong-Seok to the title role, even though it's the sort of part that he would be smart to snag for himself. On the other hand, it's also a sign that he's smart enough to see what made a movie work and not mess with it: The high concept in this movie isn't bad, but the star is the best reason to see it.

A serial killer is stalking the area around Cheonan, rear-ending drivers and then killing them when they stop to exchange information, but so far the police haven't caught onto the pattern with the exception of Jung Tae-Seok (Kim Moo-Yul), the sort of honest cop that the rest of the force often figures is trying a little too hard, especially since Captain Cha Soo-Jin (Kim Gyu-Ri) has a cozy arrangement with the local bosses. That's before Kang runs across Jang Dong-Su (Ma), who is not only the sort of guy who's burly enough that it would take a lot of stabbing to put him down for the count, but he's the city's big boss. He doesn't go to the police, of course, but Tae-Sook figures out why Dong-Su laying low, and they strike an alliance - Tae-Sook can't catch the killer without what Dong-Su has seen, and Dong-Su can't let word that some random person almost killed him get out. After all, lesser boss Heo Sang-Do (Yoo Jae-Myung) is already looking to move up.

Ma Dong-Seok - credited in English as "Don Lee" - is a big guy who was a personal trainer before he got into acting, but he's proven to have more range and charisma than that may imply in recent years, and while Dong-Su may not be the role he's ultimately remembered for, it's still one that shows what he can bring. He smashes his way through a few scenes, but there's a bit of put-upon weasel to him as well, something that makes him a bit more than the blunt object you may take him for but doesn't exactly make him admirable and impressive. He's a little funny even when being kind of repulsive, and of all the people involved, he often seems to be the one with the best idea of just how far over-the-top he should be going.

Kim Moo-Yul, for instance, sometimes seems to be overcompensating a bit as Tae-seok, doing a lot more to get the sort of attention his co-star can achieve naturally, making Tae-Seok the sort of renegade cop who is too loud to really be capable of a secret alliance. Writer/director Lee Won-Tae does wind up putting that to decent use: Despite an occasional lull, he never stands in the way of a film building up a good head of steam, and when it's time for the action to kick in - which happens more often than you might expect in a movie about tracking down one anonymous maniac - it's larger than life enough to pull cackles out of the audience. Violence is fast-paced and big without necessarily needing to be gruesome, and Lee does a good job of showing that both Dong-Su and Tae-Seok are planning a step or two ahead without pausing what they're up to right at the moment.

If there's a weak link, it's Kim Sung-Kyu's "Devil", which is in no way his fault; filmmaker Lee asks for a mean look and aggressive body language, and Sung-Kyu dives into giving it to him. It's just that the set-up seldom allows him and the chase after him to be the most interesting thing going on in any scene. The movie needs him as a catalyst, and the filmmakers inject energy into Dong-Su and Tae-Seok reluctantly handing each other the information and resources they need to catch the killer, but by the time they're closing in, there are more interesting things going on that being tied to the manhunt diminishes. I snickered at how, over what seems like not a lot of time, Tae-Seok and Dong-Su have teams more or less working out of a shared command center, but I found an odd resonance to it as well; my day job has been through enough mergers and reorganizations that I absolutely get being on a team with people who are at best rivals and at worst want at least your position eliminated, developing a sort of camaraderie anyway.

Like a lot of thrillers of this sort, "The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil" doesn't exactly become more than the sum of its parts but the best of those parts are good enough that the movie can just get by and those coming in not wanting much more than an action-packed crime flick can roll their eyes at the folks who aren't satisfied with Ma Dong-Seok being fun and people punching through doors on the way to a quality stinger with a little justification. It's fun as that sort of crime flick goes, and certainly has enough to it to make the potential adaptation interesting.

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originally posted: 06/22/20 11:52:13
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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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Directed by
  Won-Tae Lee

Written by
  Won-Tae Lee

  Mu-Yeol Kim
  Sung-kyu Kim
  Dong-seok Ma

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