Korea finds itself home to masterful strokes of cinema, be it thriller, action, or crime. In Lee Won-Tae’s The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil, the three genres find themselves mashed up with a dash of comedy dropped in to spice it all up. It largely works wonders, thanks in part to its leads and its fantastic direction.
There’s an excitement to the film, a heightened go-getter attitude that makes the proceedings both playful and chipper. For all of its knife-based violence, The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil strikes a delicate balance of tone with impressive precision.
The story is fairly simple: there’s a serial killer on the loose, but he messes up when one of his targets turns out to be the head of a gang. The cop looking to catch him teams up with the gangster, forming a shaky and often violent alliance to take down this ruthless killer.
Ma Dong-seok is magical here as the gangster Jang Dong-su, tossing people around with almost superhero ease. His knowing glances and weary mannerisms create this fascinating gangster whose larger-than-life persona breathes so much life into every scene.
The rest of the cast are solid additions, matching the fun but dangerous tone elegantly. Kim Mu-Yeol is an energetic lead as the cop, bursting with personality and giving the film an edge of rogue charm. Kim Sung-kyu is riveting as the killer, playing a fascinating character who can be difficult to read, where you’re unable to take your eyes from him.
But the main draw is the action and visuals.
The film’s a looker, too, popping with gorgeous rain-reflected streets, neon signs, and a keen eye for interesting shots that set the tone. It’s immediate, noticeable in the very first scene as a car simply drives through town before eventually, the first murder occurs. Won-Tae makes sure to meticulously draw you in with a bird’s eye point of view, unique angles to make the simplicity of driving enticing, and never quite showing the killer’s face, only allowing you to see what he wants you to see, letting the mystery play out.
The action is electric and fast, making its setpieces wrecking balls as Jang tosses people around like ragdolls. Won-Tae makes every impact and strike visceral while still keeping the humor just under the surface.
The plot does peter out at times, reaching to some absurd places and stretching the physics of logic, but it does so without risk since everything is a little ridiculous in the first place. The plot is taken seriously, but the movie itself certainly isn’t taking everything around the plot seriously.
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil may not become a major Korean standout, but it’s an endlessly entertaining entry that leaves a satisfying final image, becoming a spry romp of genre mash-up.