A rogue cop and a ruthless gangster join forces to catch a serial killer in this South Korean action thriller. The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil is stylish and fun, with great action sequences to boot, but the central trio isn’t as well rounded as it should be.
I’ve only ever seen Ma Dong-seok in two films – this and Train to Busan, and he was hands down the most awesome and memorable character in both. Here, he plays gangster Jang Dong-soo, who survives an attack by the film’s villain (Kim Sung-kyu).
Jang Dong-soo wants revenge, not just because of the attacker’s audacity, but because the attempt has made the gangster look weak in front of both his rivals and allies.
Meanwhile, loose-cannon cop Jung Tae-suk (Kim Mu-yeol) is convinced there’s an active serial killer out there, but almost no else in the department believes him. Desperate and eager to stop the killer before he strikes again, he strikes a deal with Jang Dong-soo.
It’s an uneasy alliance, to say the least – for one, each side wants to find the killer first so that they can exact their own version of justice. It’s a mix between working together and competing, and it makes for an interesting dynamic.
The cops do the detective work, while the criminals provide the manpower. The gangster can send his many, many henchmen to scour the streets, knocking door-to-door, while the cops go over all potential leads.
Ma Dong-seok is just staggeringly cool as the gangster, stealing every single scene he’s in with ease. He’s a big guy with an undeniable presence – I walked away from this movie with a strong desire to just go through his entire filmography.
Whether he’s ripping out a guy’s tooth with his bare hands, or calmly ending a phone call after being punched in the face,
Jang Dong-soo is the man.
I mean, the fact that there’s already an American remake in the works with
Ma Dong-seok set to reprise his role says a lot about how much of an impression he makes.
Kim Sung-kyu also deserves credit for his cold and unhinged villainous turn. This isn’t the kind of story that really dives into the killer’s psychology – in fact, he’s kind of an archetype. Kim Sung-kyu takes a bunch of serial killer cliches and ramps it up to eleven, which makes for a deliciously monstrous antagonist – a clever, credible threat to our unlikely heroes.
The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil is more about the cat-and-mouse game than solving a puzzle and even then, it’s certainly more over-the-top and bombastic than your typical serial killer hunt.
Car chases, vicious and brutal hand-to-hand brawls and larger-than-life personalities take precedence over looking for clues and piecing together motives. It makes for a very lively, entertaining and easy-to-follow time.
The weak link is the third main character, the cop. Kim Mu-yeol gives a fine performance, but the character is simply unlikeable. He often makes rash, stupid decisions and he also has the unenviable task of working on opposite sides with the extremely likable gangster. It’s also a little unclear if the cop is after personal glory, or a genuine desire to see justice done.
The cop stuff isn’t all bad, but it’s certainly lacking and because the story gives equal weight to all three of its principal protagonists, that slack is keenly felt – especially at the very end.
I audibly groaned when one awesome confrontation between the gangster and the killer was interrupted by the cop showing up and putting an end to it.
The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil is just too exaggerated to be taken all that seriously. This is a fun, pulpy action thriller, so I don’t really feel bad that I’m rooting for the vicious crime boss to murder a demented serial killer.
Shortcomings aside, I definitely had quite a bit of fun with this one. I’ll keep an eye out on that American remake, although I don’t exactly have high hopes.
The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil is out now.