The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil Review
Already preceded by a more than flattering reputation, The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (a disarmingly simplistic yet such enticing international title) arrives in the UK directly via digital platforms after a short passage at this year’s London East Asia Film Festival. The film was also notoriously screened, outside of the official competition, at the midnight screening of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, a screening usually devoted to, relatively speaking, more “extreme” films, which kick-started the buzz for such Korean thrillers as The Spy Gone North, Train to Busan or The Chaser. Even if The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil doesn’t manage to elevate itself to the level these illustrious predecessors, it’s nevertheless a fantastic thriller which cleverly renews the serial killer film’s formula.
Fierce and feared Zeus gang boss Jang Dong-su (Ma Dong-seok, Train to Busan) gets involved in a fender bender on a rainy night and gets attacked without warning, ending up with several severe wounds. After fighting back, he barely kept his life but his reputation as a gang boss is damaged beyond repair. His only way to somehow get his image on track is to find his attacker and exact revenge. He decides to team up with Det. Jung Tae-seok (Kim Moo-yul, War of Arrows), who believes that Jang’s attacker is none other than a serial killer.
Despite what Det. Jung believes, his boss downplays his evidence because there isn’t any evidence to begin with, as the killer does not leave anything behind. Without another option, he’s forced to use Jang’s resources in order to track down the serial killer and go after what little pattern there is to find him. The two men pool their talents and resources at their fingertips to slowly find a serial killer simply known as “K”.
Even if the international title of the film seems to pay tribute to Sergio Leone’s seminal Western (something Kim Jee-woon brilliantly did in 2008 with his very entertaining Western The Good, the Bad, the Weird, a film which was also presented at the midnight screening during the 2008 edition of the Cannes Film Festival), in Lee Won-tae’s film case, it feels more like a candid way of displaying its uninhibited nature. Indeed, The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil is a direct, brutal and electrifying thriller which never really deviates from its enticing program by embarrassing itself with second degree or moral questioning.
The film unleashes the madness of its protagonists in a series of brutal confrontations and chases leading to a crescendo of violence. Far from being exhausting, the film provokes an exhilarating feeling which relies as much on a trio of impressive actors, led by Kim Moo-yeol’s funny antics and Ma Dong-seok’s incredible charisma, as on Lee Won-tae’s impressive direction regularly displaying impressive visual ideas. The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil is only the director’s the second feature, after the Action Drama Man of Will, but it propels him amongst the group of Korean auteurs to follow.
The only reproach that could be made to the film is that, maybe, it bites off a bit more than it can chew with such a wide spectrum of sub-genres (serial killer, manhunt, gang war, police war) that they end up being treated rather summarily. Furthermore, despite proposing an interesting variation on the alliance between the underworld and the police, and touching on the border that separates the cops from the thugs via pleasurably iconic scenes, Lee Won-tae ends up being a little bit carried away by the maelstrom of uninterrupted action that his film becomes in spite of himself.
In any case, this is only a little downside which doesn’t taint the pleasure of enjoying another example of the vivacity and inventiveness of Korean Cinema.
The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (2019)
Dir: Won-Tae Lee | Cast: Dong-seok Ma, Kim Sungkyu, Mu-Yeol Kim | Writers: Won-Tae Lee, Won-Tae Lee (based on screenplay by), Won-Tae Lee (based on the film by)