Watching Another Public Enemy you're reminded of the dictum that "inside every fat person there's a thin one trying to get out," whose Korean cinematic translation would seem to be "inside every bloated two-and-a-half hour would-be epic there's a lean 90-minute movie trying to get out".

What makes it all the more frustrating an experience is that Woo-Suk Kang's 2005 film starts off better than its 2002 predecessor - to which it represents less a sequel than a re-imagining - in immediately establishing its two central characters and their relationship to one another.

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Chu-jul Kang - confusingly the same actor, Kyung-gu Sol, playing a different character than the one of the same name in the first film - is a Seoul public prosecutor. More of an audience identification figure than the Bad Lieutenant-style police officer of the first film, he's a hard-working salaryman motivated by a particular distaste for those with wealth and privilege who regard themselves as above the law.

One represenative of this tendency is an old fellow pupil of Kang's, Sang-woo Han, who has just inherited the family business and charitable foundation after his father and brother fell ill and suffered an accident within the space of a few weeks; something that Kang has a hunch is more than just unfortunate coincidence...

It's around this point, as Kang embarks upon what will prove a prolonged and dogged investigation, that Another Public Enemy begins to fall down.

While hardly bloat free, the first film could at least justify its extended duration on the basis of needing to first establish two unconnected central characters - the other, besides the corrupt cop being a psychopathic yuppie; think Korean Psycho - and their respective claims to be the Public Enemy of its title, before charting the cop's redemption as he comes to realise that there's someone worse than him out there.

Here, however, there's no parallel sense of character development. Though Kang is admittedly motivated first and foremost by personal vendetta, it quickly proves a classic case of the ends (more or less) justifying the means, Han being quite definitely the villain of the piece, a public enemy who needs to be taken down for the good of the collective.

The film is further weakened by its heavy-handed social comment, with what are some fairly obvious points about corruption being made on too many occasions, coupled with some somewhat haphazardly inserted crowd-pleasing action which jar with the character-driven dramatic essence of the whole. While it is true that one of the hallmarks of contemporary Korean cinema is a disregard for the kind of generic boundaries associated with Hollywood filmmaking, it nevertheless seems telling that some of these sequences - including a gang fight between the pupils of two rival schools and a high-speed motorcycle chase - were not actually directed by Woo-Suk Kang.

Another negative is Jun-hu Jeong's portrayal of Han, especially as compared to his counterpart Sung-Jae Lee in the preceding film. Whereas Lee's subtle and understated performance added to the quiet menace of his character, Jeong relies too heavily on smirks and sneers that make his character's true nature all too immediately apparent.

To end the review on a positive note, however, this is at least somewhat counterbalanced by Sol's more nuanced portrayal of Kang, all the more impressive for the breadth of dramatic range it demonstrates when considered in the light of his very different Kang in the first film.

Overall, this seems very much a second tier effort rather than the next Old Boy and one whose domestic box office success appears somewhat inexplicable to this western viewer.

Reviewed on: 23 Jul 2006
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Another Public Enemy packshot
A prosecutor crosses swords with a corrupt businessman.
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Director: Kang Woo-Suk

Starring: Sol Kyung-gu, Jeong Jun-ho, Kang Shin-il

Year: 2005

Runtime: 148 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea


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