The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil
"The film may sometimes ramble but it's punctuated with action set pieces which combine great stunt work and a playful wit." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

Worlds collide in Won-Tae Lee's The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil.The mysterious K (Kim Sung-kyu) habitually attacks lone drivers on isolated roads and is used to being able to get his kicks from killing with no consequences. Gang boss Jang (Ma Dong-seok) is used to being immune to violence because everyone is so afraid of him. When the two come together, not knowing or understanding one another, what happens changes both their lives. It also provides a detective (Kim Mu-Yeol) who has been trying to catch the killer with his first surviving witness - albeit not one who is going to come down to the station and cooperate.

The gangster and the detective have very different ideas about dispensing justice but both recognise that a degree of cooperation will increase their chances of catching the killer - "two bad guys working together to bring down the worst guy," as Jang puts it. He - older, better organised and with more reliable back-up - seems to have the upper hand for most of the running time, with the tough but naive cop increasingly compromised, but there are plenty of twists packed into a film whose only real downside is its lengthy running time. The killer may not have the resources of either of the men hunting him, and with moral arguments much like those of the average 12-year-old internet troll he's not going to overcome their philosophies, but he has enough tricks up his sleeve to keep things interesting.

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The film may sometimes ramble but it's punctuated with action set pieces which combine great stunt work and a playful wit. Lee proves adept at shifting the mood between humour and horror, with serious bleak moments ensuring that we can't forget what's at stake - not just revenge but stopping a monster. Meanwhile, Jang is concerned that the situation is making him look weak and could inspire moves on his territory by rivals, whilst the cop is in trouble with his supervisors, tempted by the possibility of advancement and concerned that Major Crimes may steal his case. Impromptu fights seem to break out as easily in the police station as in the underworld, and make use of every prop available.

Beautifully designed sets and costumes contribute to the sense of a world just parallel to ours where the rules aren't quite the same, conventional morality sidelined along with taste, yet the cinematography - together with some great single scene supporting performances - keeps pulling us back to the mundane world on which these larger than life characters' actions inevitably impact. Though often played for laughs, these contrasts add grittiness to a story that could otherwise become cartoonish.

Screening at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival, The Gangster, the Cop, The Devil is allegedly based on true events. Lee's interpretation is flamboyant and highly stylised in places but never loses its edge.

Reviewed on: 15 Jul 2019
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A gang boss survives an attack by a serial killer and works with a detective to try and track him down.

Director: Lee Won-Tae

Writer: Lee Won-Tae

Starring: Ma Dong-Seok, Kim Moo-Yul, Kim Sung-Kyu

Year: 2019

Runtime: 109 minutes

Country: South Korea

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