악인전; RR: Ak-in-jeon / The Gangster The Cop and the Devil (2019)

Director: Lee Won-Tae .
Starring. Dong-seok Ma, Sung-kyu Kim, Mu-Yeol Kim. South Korea. 1h 50m.

One of my all time favourite genres in film is the South Korean Crime Thriller, They are filled with such slick plots, crazy bloody knife fights and inhuman bad guys, often thick with plots twists around organised crime, bent cops, serial killers and a strange honour code there’s a dark sharp violence in them which isn’t easily mimicked. I didn’t get too hyped about this until the second half but I have valid reasons. With a lot of Korean thrillers, there’s often an air of strangeness the crimes and methods of solving them are usually played out under sheets of rain at night, and usually the killer is really fucking derranged and hard to track, control or kill. But in this case they catch the guy but it’s not the end of the story it’s only the beginning.

Don’t let the devil win

The film opens and introduces The Cop, officer Jung Tae-seok (Mu-Yeol Kim) tries to be the Ryan Reynolds of Korean cinema, he half pranks himself through the hierarchy oh the local crime gangs throwing his weight around and slapping hardened gangsters in the face, but is desperately seeking the big payload of busting a crime lord, most of his moxy comes from the boredom of dealing with the small fry. The major pivotal moment comes when the Gangster and Devil are both introduced. A fierce gang leader Jang Dong-su (Don Lee) is brutally attacked after a fender bender on a rainy night. He fights back, he barely escapes with his life in a epic knife battle, however his reputation as a feared leader is damaged beyond repair. The only way to restore his image is to find his attacker and exact revenge. Jang teams up with Detective Jung Tae-seok (Kim Moo Yul) to find the assailant, but soon discovers the attacker is actually a serial killer and Jangs opportunity to make rank.. With no support from the police department, Detective Jung is forced to use gang boss Jang’s resources in order to track down the killer. The two men must work together to find a man simply known as “K” but we know him as the Devil!

For the inclined mind there’s so much to enjoy about the movie, a stylish and brooding atmosphere, high octane bloody street fights that would make Oldboy blush and a deadly chase of a truly deranged individual with as much inhibitions as Jang Kyung-chul from I Saw The Devil. But while most crime thrillers from this region are boosted by their gratuitous violence and deadly nature, there’s an attempt to shoehorn in a few unsolicited scenes of comedy. It’s not pivotal but it’s enough to corner me, a woman with no funny bone. There’s just way too much time spent on introducing “quirky” characters and the light approach to the cop’s role just dulled the first half of the movie. It does open the movie up for a lot more body, the two have an odd couple way of getting into this case, sifting through rubbish to find the killers drinking bottle, fighting after trying to get the lead on eachother, from the grimy streets to the cop shop back into the criminal underground to the cells, they are together but still both are so weary of what the other is up to.

In general , the film has all the style and panache of any highly stylised danger driven crime classic from Seoul’s suburbs, while it’s inventive and a head above the rest, it’s also quite exceptional in terms of cinematography, there’s some brilliant atmospheric scenes drummed up with the use of crazy angles and warm lighting and amber tones heat up all the personal person to person scenes, highly contrasted by the dark rainy streets Director/Writer Lee Won-tae has really upped his game, with this being only his second movie, there’s so much promise in this showy spirited piece.

Unlike a lot of other big titles, Yellow Sea (2010), Bittersweet Life (2005), Chaser (2008) The Man from Nowhere (2010) etc, there’s not as much bubbling under the surface, no philosophical angles or a social expression, for the most part it’s just a thriller set between three main characters albeit more 2 against 1, and all three leads are pretty engaging but for me the Gangster and Devil rivalry is the key to making this such a success, especially in the final act which goes down as one of the best endings of the year with the brutish thug from the streets not just walking around ragdolling the competition in a flashy pinstripe suit, he’s a great thinker too and the combination is electric right up until his grin at the ultimate end of the movie which is so powerful.. oh that devilish grin does make you think who’s the real Devil in the end.

Rating 7/10

RMemories of Murder (2003), Chaser (2008), Yellow Sea (2010), Bittersweet Life (2005), I Saw the Devil (2010)
L – South Korean Crime Films, My Personal Favourite South Korean Films, South Korean Films A-Z.
A – South Korean Cinema an Introduction.
5s –
Dong-seok Ma

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