THE GANGSTER, THE COP, THE DEVIL: It’s the Simple Pleasures

A great idea executed solidly

The cop is after the devil.

The devil (a serial killer) randomly attacks the wrong man — the gangster.

The gangster and the cop begrudgingly team up to catch the devil.

It really is that simple.

And while begrudging team ups between cops and gangsters really aren’t untrodden territory in the action-thriller-crime cinema landscape, it does feel fresh to throw the serial killer into the mix, not to mention handing the starring role over to Don Lee (aka Ma Dong-seok).

Coming from relative newcomer, writer-director Won-Tae Lee, The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil feels like a pretty confident Korean crime film, and earns the buzz it has been receiving. Our titular cop, Tae-suk Jung, is played by the handsome and swagger-filled actor Mu-yeol Kim. This performance puts him on the map for me, though he’s appeared in smaller roles in a couple of films I was familiar with. He’s the archetypal young, upstart detective here… eager to break the case, unwilling to listen to his nakedly corrupt police chief, and most importantly: certain that they’ve got a serial killer case on their hands even when no one else will give his theory the time of day. Kim plays the role with just the right balance of disdain for both authority and gangsters, as well as the skills to back up his cocksure attitude.

Ma Dong-seok has cemented a somewhat legendary status in Korean cinema in an extraordinarily brief amount of time. It was just 2016 when he broke out with his star-making supporting performance in international smash hit Train To Busan. Since then he’s become a hot property and a leading man to watch out for. He fits into the role of gangster boss Dong-soo Jang effortlessly here. Much cooler-headed than his cop counterpart, Don Lee’s swagger is just as pronounced, just older, wiser, and on the other side of the law. When word gets out that he’s been attacked on the street by a “civilian”, he must catch the attacker and mete out street justice in order to save face.

Since our cop’s co-workers won’t believe his serial killer theory, and since our gangster needs the cop’s intel, a shaky and twisty alliance is born. 2010’s I Saw The Devil showed us that a rip-roaring Korean film could be crafted out of a life and death standoff between a cop and a serial killer, and this film simply adds another ingredient into that mix. Dissimilar in tone, however, The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is much more concerned with fun and entertainment, where I Saw The Devil digs down deep into the depths of the human psyche. On that note, I do feel like serial killer K (Sung-kyu Kim) lays a distant third fiddle here. He’s more of a foil or a Mcguffin than a fully fleshed out character. Kim plays him suitably creepily, but his motivations and psychology are pretty surface level. This feels a little insufficient here in 2019 when we’ve got the brilliance of Mindhunters to compare against.

The hook here — the interplay between our three leads and the twists, action, and humor that can be wrung from it- is the end all and be all of The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil. It’s designed to entertain you, and it does a great job at that. Don Lee strides through this thing with the calm demeanor of a tough guy who could beat you to death with an angry glance. The constant male posturing and moralizing of Kim’s cop character interplays wonderfully with Lee’s confident gangster, and the race between them to find and take down K is never not exciting. Fans of Korean crime cinema will almost certainly have a blast with this title and both new(-ish) talent Won-Tae Lee and star Mu-yeol Kim are put on my radar with this film as well. Check this out at your earliest convenience, and don’t let the competition get there first.

The Package

Fairly bare bones in terms of bonus features, there are probably a combined total of 10 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes, character profiles, and trailers. It’s a good-looking movie, however, so the high definition release is very appreciated. You’ll need to make the call yourself if you’d want to take the plunge to buy this one versus stream or rent it, but I’ll be pleased to keep this one in my collection as a highly re-watchable ride.

And I’m Out

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is now available on Blu-ray and Digital from Well Go USA

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