Starring Don Lee, Kim Moo-yul, Kim Sung-kyu
Written by Lee Won-tae
Directed by Lee Won-tae
A South Korean city is plagued by a series of stabbings, while a dogged police officer, Tae-suk (Kim Moon-yul), who is convinced it’s the work of a serial killer dubbed K (Kim Sung-kyu), fights against a corrupt justice system that would rather look the other way. When a notorious crime boss, Dong-soo (Don Lee), almost dies at the hands of the mysterious murderer, the random killing spree suddenly becomes entangled in a web of gang rivalry, turf wars, and politics. Forming an unlikely and reluctant team, Dong-soo and Tae-suk must work together to identify the killer, with the detective racing to arrest K before his gangster-turned-partner can dispatch of the killer in less-than-legal ways.
Based on a true story, the premise is immediately appealing. It’s the perfect setup for a Korean thriller, with the gangsters, crooked cops, and a serial killer providing ample opportunity for violent set pieces and action choreography. In fact, the film hardly introduces us to Tae-suk’s character before we see him beating the shit out of “hooligans” hanging around illegal slot parlors, mostly because he was bored while stuck in traffic. Just moments later, we see criminal leader Dong-soo going to town on a punching bag, only to reveal that there’s a bloody pulp of a body inside that punching bag.
The world of this film accepts violence as a way of life, masculinity as social currency, and corruption as a method of getting things done. The law is an arbitrary barrier, not only to gangsters but to the cops as well. You might expect it to be a plot twist when the captain of the police force is shown to be in bed with the criminals. Nope. The leader of the cops is crooked and everyone knows it. Corruption is so commonplace that it barely registers as a plot point.
Throughout the film, the actions of the title characters are juxtaposed, questioning the nature of authority and notions of moral or ethical superiority. Dong-soo’s wealth, network, and reputation enable him and his clan of criminals to be more effective at hunting down the killer than the justice system. The various police departments are too busy arguing over jurisdiction or dismissing evidence in favor of bribes to actually work together. Meanwhile, Tae-suk’s investigative tactics are as brutal as the criminals he collars.
The Gangster and The Cop not only share the common goal of capturing the serial killer, they share similar motives: ego. Both men feel embarrassed with K on the loose. Dong-soo was nearly stabbed to death; he has to prove that an attempt on the boss’ life will not be tolerated. Tae-Suk can’t allow someone else to nab the high-profile case; he must be the one to take the threat down. In a film practically devoid of women (there’s only one female character!), the fragile male ego is on full display, as the men battle for power through intimidation and blood.
And speaking of male egos…this film is a showcase of machismo from the always-cool Don Lee. But I’m not complaining! Taking on the role of the gangster with a quiet sense of power, Don Lee commands your attention whenever he’s on the screen. It’s the little moments that make him stand out as the ultimate badass. One such moment is when he is blindsided by a punch in the face while on his cell. He not only continues his phone conversation but easily takes down his attacker, remaining unphased throughout.
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is slick, well-shot, brimming with action, and tells a really cool true story. If you’re not there for the thrills or Don Lee’s badassery, then there’s commentary on systems of power, authority, and ethics for you to ponder. Lovers of Korean gangster fans will undoubtedly be on top of this one, but this storyline is far more accessible for those just looking for a fun thriller. If you can get your hands on this one, do it!
A solid Korean thriller with an awesome premise, The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil will stir your brain, make you laugh, and have you wishing you were as cool as Don Lee.