THE GANGSTER, THE COP, THE DEVIL (2019)
Director: Lee Won-tae
Run time: 1h 50m
This stylish serial killer hunt combines the best of the crime genre to deliver a gripping, if slightly formulaic, encounter
Serial killer chases, maverick cops and revenge-thirsty gangsters are crime flick staples. What The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil does is ideally balance these narrative strands in a high octane outing.
Strong performances ensure that the film’s pace does not seemed rushed and director Lee handles the action superbly in a film that treads minimal fresh ground, but finds an interesting combination of the action-thriller staple.
Set in 2005, mainly punctuated by repeated use of flip phones, we meet the first title character, the ‘devil’ simply known as “K” (Kim Sung-kyu), who hits a stranger’s car so that he can skewer him with a kitchen knife in an opening murder scene reminiscent of I Saw The Devil (2010).
Next we meet our cop played by Kim Mu-yeol, who excels as the honest, but angry, sarcastic and ambitious Jung Tae-suk, who detours from a crime scene journey to rattle some gangster cages in a local arcade.
Completing the film’s title trio is gangster Jang Dong-soo, who is perfectly cast with the hulking Ma Dong-seok (also superb in Train To Busan, 2006) who is seen intimidatingly pounding a boxing punchbag which is revealed to contain a luckless (barely) live man.
When Dong-seok is attacked by “K” he suffers a serious stabbing and more importantly finds himself embarrassed in underground circles for being a gangster don targeted by a nobody.
While Kyung-ho survives the attack, the combination of reputation restoration and macho rules to avenge drives him into collaboration with Tae-suk.
The cop-hating gangster and gangster-hating cop combine in an odd-couple pairing which is part collaboration for mutual benefit, part race between getting the killer in court to be judged by law, or simply slaughtered by gangster rules.
The film is Lee’s second in the director seat after period prison drama Man of Will (2017) and suggests a growing maturity from his debut.
When The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil screened at a midnight non-competition showing at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2019, it received a standing ovation. Since then details of an American remake have been confirmed, with Ma reprising his role.
Some of the film’s darker themes are lost in a glossy colour palette, and the score treads towards crime caper clique at times, but not to the wider detriment of the stylish thrills the film provides.
Long-time fans of Korean action and crime films may feel that The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil treads a well-trodden path in its approach and themes, but it treads these well enough.
The final product is a multi-facetted crime genre film which fulfils the action brief with neck-break developments and elaborate fights scenes. The Kim and Ma performances bring the film to life, and their onscreen chemistry ensures the film continues to spark a reaction.