Public Enemy 2 (a.k.a. Another Public Enemy) Review
Kang Wu-seok‘s Public Enemy turned out to be one of South Korea’s best thrillers when it was released in 2002 to much acclaim. It followed the life of a slightly crooked cop, played by Sol Kyung-gu who had to turn his life around after a threatening internal investigation on his illegal activities. Soon he found himself hunting a vicious killer (Lee Sung-jae), who happened to be a respected business man, thus setting up an exciting psychological battle. Now, three years later Kang Wu-seok and Sol Kyung-gu are back, only this time things are a little different.
Kang Chul-joong (Sol Kyung-gu) is a highly respected and passionate criminal prosecutor. Much to the annoyance of his chief, Mr. Kim (Kang Shin-il) he’s always heading out to take part in investigations, instead of going through paperwork. Chul-joong often thinks like a detective, relying on instinct and making sure his men are well looked after in order to solve cases. When the Myung-sun Foundation becomes involved as his next case, things become a little more personal.
Han Sang-woo (Jeong Jun-ho) is the Chief Director of the Myung-sun Foundation. His father had passed away one year ago, to which Sang-woo’s brother was next in line as his successor. But when Sang-woo’s brother was critically injured in a car accident, Sang-woo took over proceedings. Soon a fellow board director pays a visit to Chul-joong and asks for him to investigate Sang-woo under suspicion of several illegal operations. Of course Sang-woo is too highly regarded and powerful, making him difficult to get close to, but Chul-joong does everything he can, even if it means breaking a few rules to see that his old school friend is brought to justice.
Those hoping for a direct sequel that builds upon the characters from the 2002 smash may be disappointed to find that there’s been quite a switch around. While the name of our protagonist is the same, as well as the actor playing him, along with one or two supporting players the premise is entirely different. Kang Chul-joong is no longer a scruffy, struggling father with leanings toward criminal activity and heavy violence. Now he has scruples, he’s the epitome of everything good; that by which the law stands. “Public enemies” are lucky to be called that, in favour of simple “bad guys”, by Chul-joong’s observations. That’s right, this isn’t so much about the enemy on the street, in a dark alleyway but one that is much higher up on the social ladder.
Public Enemy 2‘s similarities lie in its psychological foundation and using a corporate figure as a focal point for evil. Like Public Enemy we have two men trying to keep one step ahead of the other, while they trip over some hurdles along the way. Chul-joong has the police force to deal with and plenty of red tape, while something always manages to thwart Sang-woo’s plans and slow him down. But there was one thing that made the first film so engaging, and that was how interesting each player was. Each character here quite easily represents good or bad, much like the old Walter Hall flick, The Driver, in that sense their lives aren‘t nearly as touched upon. In Public Enemy we had two characters that each had well developed backgrounds. Chul-joong then was a very interesting character and he came from a home where his mother had a hard time believing he was a cop and his daughters were always there for him at the end of the day. Gyu-hwan (Lee Sung-jae) likewise had a family, he was loving but he was greedy, he even went so far as to murder his own parents to further his success, and this gave the film some incredible turns of events. Its sequel is far less compelling in how it chooses to depict its leads. Sang-woo’s actions are not entirely dissimilar to Gyu-hwan’s but his standing is. He’s the head of a massive business, abusing South Korea’s economy and education system. No one in their right mind would dare to oppose such a driving force; but unlike Gyu-hwan, Sang-woo just doesn’t cut it as a shocking villain. The director tries so very hard to make him an evil man, and Jeong Jun-ho does his utmost to portray a mixture of innocent qualities and sleaze. He doesn’t have the personality disorder that was part of Gyu-hwan, instead he has to rely on a series of unlikely or forced events while trying to keep a calm demeanour. It actually becomes played out far more clichéd than perhaps the director intended.
For our good guy, Chul-joong is surprisingly devoid this time ‘round. Sure he smiles a lot, he’s passionate about his job, he’s a classic, model figure of justice (well maybe not when he bends rules) and he’s likeable but that’s about it. He’s everything that good should be and yet he’s missing so much more. We get an opening that shows us a little of his past school life and his relationship toward Sang-woo, but it’s not the most solid of foundations. There are also moments that feel odd, in light of an eventual character passing. We learn after its too late just how much someone meant to him but in all that time prior we see hardly any of that. Perhaps the reason for complaint is due to the fact that the first film built upon its characters, while this one just rolls with the punches. It defies any expectations that one might have had for a sequel, and in that respect it fails to be nearly as engaging.
Gone is much of the comedic undercutting that made the first so surprisingly enjoyable. While Public Enemy 2 still uses a few gags, they’re there to supposedly break up any tension. We have our recurring bad guy figures that seem to be having a hard time in deciding whether or not they want to tell the truth about their crimes, while Chul-joong is given a few charming moments but nothing on the scale that made his previous outing as enjoyable. This is about as much an overlong political drama as anything else. There are several valid social inclusions, but they’re so stretched out and take up nearly as much precedence as Chul-joong’s investigation. What made the original so much fun was seeing this man pursue his target and watching how he would use or abuse his status to catch up with him. Here we again know who the killer is but the hunt isn’t nearly as interesting. We’re meant to be shocked by how Sang-woo abuses his social standing so he can attain further wealth but instead we’re (and by that I mean me) bored by it. At 148 minutes it would seem that it has a lot of ground to cover, but in reality it feels like the material is just being padded out. Nevertheless there are several thematic moments that do gain our attention and it’s with due thanks going to several respectable actors that the film pulls off what might otherwise be too unbelievable to appreciate.
Probably the most interesting addition to the film is that three directors worked on various scenes. Kim Sang-jin (Kick the Moon, Attack the Gas Station) was brought onboard to deliver some of the brawling sequences; the opening of the film is immediately familiar. Then we have Chang Yoon-hyun (Tell Me Something) to carry out several of the film’s hectic chase sequences. In all the results are positive but you’re not likely to find anything that’s too adrenaline packed. These moments of action do a good enough job in providing a quick breather from many of its prolonged, dialogue heavy scenes but at the end of the day they do little to improve beyond what the film has already delivered.
Koreans’ and their special editions. Cinema Service brings us a very attractive package; a sturdy hard cover case, sealed with a magnetic strip. Opening it up reveals a special booklet with production notes (Korean text) and a pocket housing two covers - one for each disc. Be quick in ordering this as it’ll likely go out of print soon. Here’s a pack shot:
Presented anamorphically at 2.35:1 Public Enemy 2 is a solid presentation. Colour is superb, with good skin tones, clear outdoor shots and strong black levels, particularly during several night sequences. Contrast is a tad high however, but unsurprising when it comes to Korean releases. There is a little grain present which I have no problem with, but causes a little inconsistency from time to time with the transfer during various shots, and there is also a spot of Edge Enhancement.
For sound we have Korean Dolby Digital 5.1. Very surprising that this doesn’t have a DTS track, but no matter; the 5.1 here is more than adequate. As this is largely a talky film the front speakers carry dialogue clearly and effectively. The score comes through pleasingly and works well during some of the film’s sadder moments, where audio levels rise slightly. Come the action scenes the track really kicks into gear. The most impressive example here is during a couple of the motorbike chase sequences, where the engines roar to an impressive height and the surrounds are used to their potential.
Optional English subtitles are included and these are acceptable. There are unsurprisingly several grammatical errors, with some letters missing here or there, along with some awkward sentence structuring, but nothing that poses any major difficulties. Many of the mistakes are easy to understand and the viewer shouldn’t have a hard time in piecing together the odd sentence.
This is a 2-disc release with some interesting looking features. As with most Korean releases there are no English subtitles for them. Menus are entirely in Korean.
Disc 1 contains an audio commentary with the director and cast, while disc 2 contains the bulk of extras. Please excuse me for my vagueness as I get through these.
Disc 2 is split into two parts. First up is 13-minutes worth of interviews. I don’t know who any of these people are or what they’re talking about. Next up we have 35-minutes of interviews with director Kang Wu-seok and several of the main cast members. This also includes plenty of behind the scenes material. Next is 10-minutes featuring the director again talking about stuff, followed by a 14-minute interview with Sol Kyung-gu, Kang Shin-il and Jeong Jun-ho together. Here they talk a little about Public Enemy and then its sequel. Then they talk about various things like playing their characters - that’s what it looks like anyway. Finally we have the film’s 2-minute trailer.
Part two starts off with 10-minutes of location shooting. This is for the car chases, directed by Kim Sang-jin. Next up we get another 10-minute piece; this looks at set design, with an interview from who I think is the set designer. A 12-minute segment follows and this looks at a film screening with some interviews. We then get 8-minutes of interviews with people who might be in the film industry or fans. Last of all we get another trailer. I've scored these in terms of quantity. I'm sure there's enough to interest and they seem solid enough but that's as far as I can go.
In the end it comes down to what the viewer is expecting. For a stand alone sequel Public Enemy 2 works well enough; as a dramatic thriller there’s just enough to hold our attention and the performances are solid all round. As a follow up it pales in comparison to its elder brother and the change of events may disappoint fans. It’s far from a bad film, but it has too many similar ideas of which many are drawn out, thus failing to better or equal its predecessor.