South Korean actor Don Lee (a.k.a. Ma Dong-Seok) is back with first billing alongside Kim Moo-Yul and Kim Sung-Kyu in a crime tale intriguingly based on a true story with Lee Won-Tae’s The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil. The film premiered at Cannes and is now off to the races for its remaining festival circuitry, and with deserving ceremony given the talent that headlines this latest work from the filmmaker who debuted in 2017 with Cho Jin-Woong starrer, Man Of Will.
Lee’s fellow co-star from Kang Yoon-Sung’s The Outlaws, actor Kim Sung-Kyu, bookends the movie title as the menacing serial killer whose gruesome, indiscriminate pile of bodies are plaguing the city. Lee stars as Jang Dong-Soo, a crimeboss mitigating his teetering underworld business dealings with other bosses whilst staving off the whimiscal and unwelcome escapades of Jung Tae-Seok, a relentless detective with a penchant for harassing gangsters for fun.
Corruption and bureaucracy take shape with Jung struggling to take down Jang’s money fraud network just as the murder cases fall in hands of his precinct. Soon enough, the killer eyes his next intended target in Jang only to fall short of killing him, leaving him unconcious and, eventually, in the hands of the police. Refusing to hand the killer over amid dissenting methods and ideals as opposites of the law, the standstill between Jang and Jung result in a deal work together in-cognito to catch the killer and bring him to justice, depending on who catches him first.
Lee Won-Tae’s script harkens exactly to the kind of escapist thrills of crimefighting buddy features of yesteryear and today. The brilliance and fun of it here lies in Kim Sung-Kyung’s delivery as the elusive “K”, and how this seeming simplicity of there only being a single antagonist to strive for makes him the powder keg he is; The fact that his intended victim survives in the first place, thus stirring up a frenzy as Jang’s soldiers impulsively act on their own accord, is just the beginning of the singluar damage being done.
While Jang handles his own in-house matters, Jung has his own problems. He’s strongly disdainful and biased against gangsters – even the most innocuous. He, brash, insubordinant and argumentative with his superiors for good reason, and it’s only when efforts from him and his team to catch the killer are uprooted with the arrival of a special crimes unit that the stakes become higher more than ever. To this, as the story unfolds, there’s a redemptive air between the two characters with each seeking to restore a balance of sorts.
The magic happens on screen per the development between Jang and Jung. Both are partly untrusting of each other with one holding leverage over the other, all while enjoined at the forefront of an unlikely pairing that also has them fending off other gangsters back-to-back. Their partnership isn’t entirely cynical for the run of the whole movie though. Still, they’re neither friends, nor do they fully believe in each other, but when it’s time to go to work, work gets done.
Lee Won-Tae crafts a genuine, hard-hitting and fantastic action feature that brings the pain. Specifically, Don Lee more than serves his purpose here with a role that rewardingly adds to his resumè as a toplining talent now taking aim at Hollywood. His action sequences are some of the most fun you’ll see next to some of his other releases in the last several years, so if you enjoyed his outings in Train To Busan with Gong Yoo, director Kim Yong Wan’s family drama, Champion, or even Kang Yoon-Sung’s The Outlaws, rest assured, you’re in for a real treat.
Lee’s on-screen chemistry with Kim Moo-Yul is some of the best you’ll see. Some of these moments get little nuggets throughout the second half of the film that highlight certain notable traits between the two. It’s a nice little quirk that builds a bit into the humor and earnestly stands far from distracting or cheap on character development. There’s a nuance there, made visibly distinct by a line which the director smartly doesn’t cross, choosing instead to focus on what matters most.
With The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil, you get what you pay for, and with plenty of reason to jump out of your seat on occasion. It’s also clear as to why this movie would appeal to the interests of one Sylvester Stallone who himself plans to produce an English-language remake with Don reprising his role; Thinking about it does bring some perspective, but that isn’t to suggest Lee Won-Tae’s work will be underhanded – quite the opposite, and, with an added certainty, reasserts tenfold that The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is required viewing for any action fan.
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is written and directed by Lee Won-Tae and stars Don Lee, Kim Moo-Yul and Kim Sung Kyu, and opens in select theaters and VoD on June 7 from Well Go USA.