Korea | 2019 | D: Won-Tae Lee
I like to think of Asian cinema as having a few very distinct markets. There’s the Japanese – known for their horror, monster and obscure movies. South East Asia gives us very distinct gory horrors and action films, while China, Hong Kong and Taiwan give us a mish-mash of genres – good action films, good horror films, but bland comedies and movies with mostly incoherent storylines.
But Korea gives us something more unique – essentially the Asian version of Hollywood. Remarkable horror films like The Host and Train to Busan, popular romantic comedy movies like My Sassy Girl, interesting awards films like Parasite – and of course the outstanding Sympathy trilogy in Old boy and Sympathy for Mr and Lady Vengeance.
But Korean thrillers are something else entirely. And if you enjoyed the spectacular I Saw The Devil – then I am confident you will love every second of The Gangster The Cop The Devil.
Jung Tae-sook is a detective investigating a stabbing of a victim in his car when he discovers that it could be the work of a serial killer. A local crime boss, Jang Dong-su, who makes his money selling modified gambling machines, falls victim to the serial killer – surviving the violent attack but vowing revenge.
An unlikely alliance is formed between the two men – the Gangster and the Cop – in order to track down the serial killer – The Devil – and bring him to justice. Pooling each other’s resources and needing to out smart the Special Cases Unit before they solve the crime, Tae-sook and Dong-su embark on a dangerous game of luring out the killer and capturing him.
To tell you any more of the movie would be to give away too much of the film – and for a movie like this the novelty is enjoying the ride it takes you on. Unlike Hong Kong cinema, where thrillers – like the recently reviewed Integrity – are rushed and at times confusing, this well-made Korean thriller is elegantly paced, allowing each scene and vital piece of information to breathe on screen, providing the audience time to absorb it. It’s this reason alone that makes this movie a cut above anything else coming out of Asia this season.
Our two main characters – the Gangster Dong-su and the Cop Tae-sook, have their own individual motivation for going after the killer. The Gangster wants his revenge – his reputation in the underworld simply will not allow him to be victim of an attack like this. And to do anything other than a revenge kill would be seen as weak. The Cop, on the other hand, wants to uphold justice for the other victims. He also stands to gain a promotion for a successful outcome.
Their alliance is brought on by wanting an outcome – but they face issues of trust. How can a Cop expect a Gangster to uphold his side of the deal they’ve made? Likewise, how can the Gangster trust that the Cop won’t arrest him for unrelated crimes? This element of the story brings with it both tension and excitement, perfectly captured when the two men team up to defeat members of a rival gang who infiltrate their hideout while they’re searching over the killer’s car for clues. And it’s later repeated, this time with the opposite effect, during the car chase sequence at the end of the film. These are two well written characters, and the actors portraying them have done an excellent job of bring them to life on the big screen.
The well written script and excellent pacing of the film deserve to be triumphed. And the good thing about the way the story has been written is that it’s kept all the main points as simple as possible. It’s very reminiscent of how Seven built it story up – it wasn’t trying to confuse you, it wanted to entertain you. And that’s what this movie does too.
If there were faults to pick with this film, it would be this: the lack of a strong backstory for the serial killer. We’re only given two very brief insights into who he is as a character – one is when he kills the truck driver and the other from his mother. You’re left to think about what his overarching motivation could be. Although the movie says it’s based on a true story, so the story of killer may be more well known in Korea.
However, that doesn’t stop you from enjoying this movie. This is another thriller than joins the ranks of Oldboy and I Saw The Devil as Korean masterpieces that deserved to be watched. The good thing is, it’s a bit less gory and violent than those two movies.
I couldn’t recommend this movie enough if you’re in the mood for a serial killer thriller.