South Korean crime thriller once again blurs the line between good and evil in a hardcore manner. The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil goes style over substances in this unorthodox cat-and-mouse game involving a band of typically merciless Korean gangsters, a regimen of typically offensive Korean cops and a single, typically sinister serial killer dubbed as the devil. Lee Won-tae blends South Korean most celebrated cliches of the recent years and crafts this purely enjoyable joyride.
The derangement begins when a killer (Kingdom‘s Kim Sung-kyu) begins terrorizing a small Korean city by committing a series of random homicides with a consistent M.O—targeting a lone driver on some desolated road. A local hot-headed detective, Jung Tae-seok (Kim Mu-yeol) reads the pattern and becomes obsessed in capturing the killer on loose. When the killer stumbles across a crime-lord, Jang Dong-su (Train to Busan‘s Ma Dong-seok), and fails to kill him, the cat-and-mouse game officially starts. Unaware of his victim’s reputation, the killer continues his killing spree; at the same time, the surviving Dong-su and the hard-boiled Tae-seok form an unlikely alliance between The Gangster and The Cop to catch the killer—The Devil (is this a callback to Kim Jee-won’s I Saw the Devil)—and settle the score.
The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil takes a lot of expositions to define the world that becomes its setting. First, Won-tae’s story introduces the serial killer’s M.O. which leads us to Tae-seok’s investigation. If you’re following recent news about South Korean law-enforcing situation (the scandal involving some famous names in the country’s entertainment industry), you’ll directly get how the movie’s going to depict the law-enforcers despite its mid 2000s setting. The cop in general is crooked, corrupted and almost powerless. Some of the most influential figures in the cop ranks choose to work with the most respectable crime-lords who simply take control of the economy. We’ll soon learn that Tae-seok’s superiors are involved with Dong-su’s gangster squads, making them untouchable. While never quite reach its most intriguing potentials, the complication resulted from the unholy relationship really fuels the story which mostly keeps it strictly to the literal sense of cat-and-mouse pursuit.
Won-tae characterizes all three titular characters in this crime thriller almost similarly. Whether it’s the gangster, the cop or the devil, they are all persistent, cunning and, most importantly, evil in similarly different ways. Kim Mu-yeol, Ma Dong-seok, and Kim Sung-kyu respectively inject enticing energy to each character which make audiences connect with the characters easily. While Kim Sung-kyu’s serial killer is often portrayed in a sinister, one-dimensional frame, his character is the one who points out how similar they are all. Most of the time, how the movie attempts to highlight this point seems a little too tongue-in-cheek; and yet, the movie compensates it with fast-paced narrative and straightforward, twist-less game. The result is an occasionally funny, occasionally serious crime thriller that feels like it’s been taken directly from the 80s hard-boiled B-movie.
While not having enough substance to end up being a sophisticated thriller, The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil has enough guts to go berserk. Unlike its closest kins like I Saw the Devil or The Chaser, Lee Won-tae’s threesome has some more calculated violent scenes, which never goes too far. Sung-kyu as the serial killer is given some more clinical brutal scenes; and yet, the most memorable violence surprisingly comes from Dok-seong’s Dong-su. Scenes like the teeth-pulling punishment or human punching bag will linger longer than the movie itself.
At last, line between good and evil is deliberately blurred in The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil. This hardcore B-movie is proud and taking its identity too seriously that Sylvester Stallone is keen to remake it. No wonder.
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (2019)
Action, Crime, Thriller Written & Directed by: Lee Won-tae Starred by: Kim Mu-yeol, Ma Dong-seok, Kim Sung-kyu Runtime: 109 mins