Every now and again you get a Korean (but never Chinese) movie that’s been ripped from the headlines! I assume the dedication to accuracy is about the same there as here. Which, there (as here), is fine if it’s in the service of a good story. And this one works out to be a pretty good one.
The premise is this: There’s a serial killer (the Devil) who’s going around killing random middle-aged men but the ever-corrupt-and-incompetent Korean police department refuses to acknowledge it. Our hero (the Cop) is the only one who sees the pattern and he’s being put off by his police chief for two reasons: First, some of those murders happened outside his jurisdiction, so clearing those cases doesn’t even help his stats; Second, the chief is pissed off because the detective keeps busting this pachinko-running gang headed by the titular Gangster.
I saw where this was going almost right away. The serial killer’s MO is to rear-end some guy on an abandoned road and, while he’s preoccupied taking pictures, to stab the bejeezus out of him. So, of course, he picks the Gangster as his would-be victim, but said Gangster is a serious bad-ass and nearly kills him. The Gangster ends up in the hospital, which triggers a gang war, and the suspicions of the Cop but of course Gangster has zero confidence in the police. (I mean, he knows how easy it is to buy them off, right?)
It ends up being a kind of “buddy picture” with the Cop and the Detective pooling leads while trying to beat each other to the final capture. Because if the Gangster gets him first, he’ll kill him. If the Cop gets him, he’ll arrest and get the glory for closing a bunch of cases at once. (Also, less selfishly, if they don’t get a confession out of this guy, they may never really know how many people he killed.)
We saw this shortly after John Wick 3, and were favorably impressed by the action scenes. The choreography wasn’t that glitzy but it felt like—given the parameters of a bunch of mooks attacking a couple of hard targets—things hurt a little more, were a little more realistic or at least not so fantastic as to break suspension of disbelief. Also, there are only a few moments of this mixed in with a great many moments of genuine suspense as The Devil movies along trying to escape detection but increasingly less concerned about his neat little M.O. of only killing middle-aged dudes on abandoned roads. By the end, he seems to be killing everyone who crosses his path if he thinks he can get away with it.
The acting is good, with The Gangster being played by Dong-seok Ma (the lovable star of Champion and Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days, among others) and what works well here is that while he’s intrinsically fairly charming his character’s ruthlessness is well portrayed here. I mean, he’s not a good guy, though he does have a code. At one point, this code requires him to personally extract an uppity underling’s front teeth manually. The Cop is played by Mu-yeol Kim, who had a role in the movie that started it* all, Warriors of the Dawn; He plays very well off Ma. The Devil is played by Sung-Kyu Kim who had a small role in The Accidental Detective 2: In Action, and is very solid here as a maniac.
It scales up to what are eventually fairly absurd levels, but it also brings everything back in with a character-based twist, as The Gangster and The Cop have to slug it out to see who gets The Devil, and ultimately have to work together, after a fashion. We enjoyed it a great deal. After the Doris Day double-feature, this was a similar case where we wished we had seen this first and Funan second—and not because Funan wasn’t good.
*In this case, “it” is the Korean movie watching.