Another Public Enemy Review

One of Another Public Enemy’s more intriguing aspects is its length. At two and a half hours it creates certain expectations, most likely those for an epic crime drama. Yet this isn’t quite what appears onscreen: a good vs. evil morality play peppered with class analyses and tonal lurches into broad, idiosyncratic humour not to mention passages of excessive, gratuitous and glorified violence. Put this way it may very well come across as a mess, but this would be jumping to conclusions. At the centre of Another Public Enemy is a commanding performance from Kyung-gu Sol as Criminal Prosecutor Kang. Gawky, but undoubtedly charismatic, this isn’t the most obvious of leading men, yet the choice pays off. Here’s a character we’ve all seen before – Kang is the crusading type, responds to gut instinct and ultimately earns respect, even if he does rub his superiors the wrong way – but we’re interested nonetheless. For the majority of Another Public Enemy’s duration he’s in pursuit of a former classmate on the other side of the haves/have-nots divide, a background of privilege which he uses to satisfy his own corrupt needs.

Unsurprisingly, director Woo-suk Kang fashions this conflict in a manner akin to Michael Mann. The similarities between the two men are emphasised as fully as their divergences, although the pairing doesn’t quite work. As the titular “public enemy” Joon-ho Jung isn’t quite able to compete with Sol in the performance stakes. He doesn’t convince as much, or intrigue for that matter, and neither does he convey the complexities. As such the class dimension which Another Public Enemy is so clearly striving for never really falls into place. It becomes a question of Kang’s good morals and his nemesis’ taste for golf; a too-easy divide which avoids the more complicated issues. The morality play ultimately comes down to nothing more than the white hat versus the black hat of countless schematic Westerns.

As a strict genre movie Another Public Enemy does make this simplicity a little more palatable. It is, after all, a film which enjoys its violent interludes and one whose DVD incarnation in this case devotes its sole featurette to a breakdown of its major set piece: a late night car chase. Moreover, the plotting never really tests our intelligence too much. Kang wants his man and, after as many hurdles as the two and a half hours can handle, achieves just that. It would all be terrifically efficient if it wasn’t for the length.

So why is Another Public Enemy so long? For the most part it comes down to character touches. Sol is allowed to shine, as said, and there’s a solid base of supporting players behind him; even if the film were pared down to its essentials – and it so easily could be – the attention to the smaller roles is certainly of a higher standard than you’d expect from your average genre piece. That said, the excessive running time does allow space for its fair share of lachrymose moments: Kang gets to deliver a grand speech accompanied, seemingly, by half an orchestra, and he gets to shed a few tears along the way.

All of which leaves us with a film of mixed pleasures. Sol is the guiding force, of course, and he does manage to hold the whole thing together. But the web of contradicting ideas, the mixture of highpoints and blatant flaws ultimately makes for compromised viewing. Another Public Enemy is an interesting film, but also one which leaves plenty of room for improvement.

The Disc

Tartan’s UK handling of Another Public Enemy is one of mixed fortunes. In terms of presentation it’s blighted by yet another of the company’s NTSC-PAL conversions. This results in edge enhancement, intermittent colour bleed and artefacting. Otherwise things would be quite pleasing: original aspect ratio (2.35:1) anamorphically enhanced, clean print, good clarity and the choice of various soundtracks (DD2.0, DD5.1, DTS) accompanied by optional soundtracks. Furthermore this latter aspect comes across especially well, crisp throughout and ably handling both the quieter dialogue-driven moments and the bigger scenes.

As for extras, here we find a commentary from Woo-suk Kang and three of his leading actors (Sol and Jung amongst them) which makes for an agreeable pally affair full of good humour, but ultimately one which struggles to fill the lengthy duration. Also present on the disc are a brief behind-the-scenes glimpse at the central car chase (a mixture of B-roll footage and the occasional talking head), the original theatrical trailer and a number of cross-promotional pieces for other titles under Tartan’s Asia Extreme banner.

As with the main feature, all extras come with optional English subtitling where applicable.

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