The sequel to 2017’s THE OUTLAWS bludgeons its way onto home video
Like many, I was first introduced to Don Lee (also known as Ma Dong-seok in his native South Korea) in 2016’s Train to Busan, and ever since have been eager to see more of his compelling mixture of imposing physicality and easy charisma. Fortunately, the “Beast Cop” movies, featuring Lee as Serious Crimes Detective Ma Seok-do, present a cops vs. gangsters thriller canvas approximately in the Venn diagram between Jackie Chan’s Police Story films and the Lethal Weapon series to showcase Lee’s considerable action chops. The Roundup sharpens everything that worked in its predecessor, feeling like all the pieces have securely slotted into place — both for the country-hopping kidnapping plot here, and for (already in the works) future cases.
Set a few years after a career-defining bust, The Roundup (aka, Crime City 2) sees Detective Ma and his long-suffering Captain Jeon (Gwi-hua Choi) of the Geumcheon district police in Seoul sent to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to extradite a suspect. Once they get there, they find themselves in a web of kidnapping, murder, and cold cases targeting Korean tourists, but are (theoretically) limited by their jurisdiction. In practice, Detective Ma makes Michael Douglas in Black Rain (there’s a pull the kids are sure to get) look positively deferential and law-abiding in comparison. Whether he’s beating up on suspects in the interrogation room or wading into gambling dens to literally slap people unconscious, Lee enters the film as a force of nature and never stops making you believe he’ll bulldoze through anything to get his man.
Fortunately, the film is more than cognizant of the need to give him a threat truly worth chasing.
While in Vietnam, Jeon and Ma cross paths with Kang Hae-sang (Sukku Song), a vicious extortionist and murderer who’s been kidnapping South Korean tourists and holding them for ransom, but then burying the bodies and keeping the cash when paid. Kang winds up on several shit lists after kidnapping the son of a Seoul-based syndicate boss, and the film keeps him constantly just of reach in his and Ma’s deadly game of cat and mouse.
For all that this has a good deal of great bare-knuckle action in it, a good portion of The Roundup is devoted to Ma and his squad beating the street trying to chase leads and find excuses to hang out so the audience can enjoy their chemistry. Since this is set in 2008, this nominal “period piece,” allows the filmmakers use the not-quite-fully-digital world to indulge in a bit of the street-beating lead-chasing truffle hound version of detective work to both lead into and come down from the various car chases and fisticuffs.
When it’s time to fully dive in, director Lee Sang-yong (taking over for Kang Yoon-Song) reminds everyone that he’s the guy that made The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Whenever Detective Ma throws a punch, it’s like the hand of God Herself is descending from the heavens to clap a bell over his target’s head and ring it with a baseball bat — and Lee’s camera captures every blow with dramatic angles and a kinetic camera that’s just as comfortable in luxurious long takes (there’s a marquee one during an ambush in an apartment) as it is in deliberately staccato cuts to emphasize each impact.
The visual language feels even more finely-tuned to the material as a result, with the camera practically colliding with people’s faces during claustrophobic action scenes but also pulling way way back at key moments to ratchet up the tension by making characters feel small and isolated.
It’s also surprisingly funny, with a fairly deep bench of supporting players that either gleefully bust each other’s chops or let the movie bust their own. It never tips over into clownery that takes the air out of the tense manhunt, but it makes the characters feel more genuine and allows for some fun wrinkles to the expected formula. Park Ji-hwan’s returning “reformed” gangster Jang Isu probably gets the most laughs, but even he captures an undeniable humanity you can’t help but root for.
“But wait, is that it?” Yeah — at the end of the day, there are bad guys you wanna see get punched, and there are good guys you wanna see do the punching, and then it happens and it’s cool as hell. This isn’t transcendent cinema but it’s a full meal of an action movie. While The Outlaws was fun and at times very impressive, The Roundup feels like the vehicle that’s always been waiting for Don Lee to slide behind the wheel and crash it into stuff with gleeful abandon. There’s already a sequel in the works with even more potentially on the way, and I say bring ’em on.
Capelight put together a solid audio-video package, with no visible dithering or compression artifacts (which also upscales nicely on a 4k blu-ray player). The meaty bass drum of Don Lee’s punches and the accompanying wailing guitars (I told you this was a Lethal Weapon-ass movie) come through beautifully in the native Korean 5.1 track — though Deutch and English dubs are also available for anyone interested.
Nah, what you see is — literally — what you get. The biggest knock against this release is that the disc is absolutely barebones with nary a trailer to call its name outside the settings menu and feature film. It would have been nice to see some of the filmmaking process on this one (particularly since Don Lee has a screenplay credit this time around) and some behind-the-scenes on the design of those brawls certainly wouldn’t go amiss.
But it’s hard to complain when the main event is so enjoyable.
The Roundup is currently available on Blu-ray courtesy of Capelight Pictures.