Action-packed thriller from South Korea about partnerships and competition in hunting a killer; a perfect film from Lee Won-tae apart from a few clichés.
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil opens with what appears to be road-rage that viciously turns into manslaughter; however, one young police detective spots similarities with a couple of other incidents and realises that these are actually deliberate attacks. When this killer picks a target one night who can defend himself, the head of a major crime gang, one investigation turns into two; both the police and the mafia hunting for the same man.
Written and directed by Lee Won-tae, The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is a near-perfect South Korean crime drama. There is a well-constructed plot which you cannot help but to follow closely as it’s so enjoyable. The mafia side of the drama plays out to a backdrop of gangland rivalry and suspicion between colleagues; while the cop is investigating under the shadows of a boss who doesn’t believe his hunches and a partner who doesn’t always trust him.
The three key roles may seem a little formulaic, but their characters fit the story so well and they are portrayed so well that I don’t mind at all. Dong-seok Ma (familiar to Train to Busan fans) plays the gang leader, both humanised by the assault he endures but still godlike to his crew. Kim Moo-Yeol is the reckless-though-sharp cop, who finds new skills in negotiating partnerships and truces. The killer, “the Devil”, played by Kim Sungkyu, is a mystery for most of the film; we hardly see him at all (except occasionally in a hood), like John Doe in Seven, but when we do, he is truly sinister.
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is riddled with good old car chases and shoot-out scenes, and truly polished like so many Asian action films. You can see every detail: nothing is too busy or clouded with dust. If your experience of Asian action films is The Villainess, you’ll find the fight scenes much more lifelike, less stylised than that; and if you’re expecting something dark, like I Saw the Devil, this will feel like Lethal Weapon (less serious than even Infernal Affairs) in comparison. The focus is much more on the relationship between the characters and the resolution of the plot than on explicit violence; though don’t get me wrong: there are killings aplenty.
So you may have seen many elements of this film before, but certainly not assembled into such a successful end product. The only improvement I could have hoped for would be a little less cliché in the use of the crime/action formula; but there is only a little, and the use of the formula works. Everyone I spoke to following the UK premiere at Mayhem Film Festival loved The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil… but you know if subtitles aren’t your thing, just wait a while: word is there is an American remake on the way, having been spotted by Sylvester Stallone.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.