This high-concept Korean thriller of course evokes The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – as three larger-than-life characters engage in a tripartite feud that leaves a lot of bodies in its wake.
The English title gives the gangster top billing, aptly since burly Ma Dong-seok gets the showiest role as Jang, a boss who is presiding over a fractious slot machine empire while fending off challenges from all sides. He’s paid off the police higher-ups, but rogue cop Jung (Kim Moo-yul) insists on hassling low-level thugs and actually doing something about organised crime even though he’s assigned to the crimes of violence – murders, kidnaps – that take place outside the cosy circle of corruption. Pleased with himself after a sit-down deal, Jang opts to drive himself home without his entourage – and is targeted by K (Kim Sung-kyu), a serial killer who has no idea who his prospective victim is and has an m.o. of ramming lone night motorists from behind in a fender-bender then stabbing them when they stop to argue about insurance. The slab-bodied Jang survives the encounter and sets out to catch the killer to regain face – using his own sketch artist and dedicated krewe – while Jung is vaguely willing to team up with his enemy to go after the lone maniac, even though he thinks Jang is the higher priority target and the canny crook isn’t above doctoring evidence to put off a bunch of gangland killings on the psychopath.
Like a lot of Asian thrillers, this seems to have several extra acts – a kidnapping sub-plot, a courtroom drama finale – but, come to think of it, so did The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The characters are vivid and their conflicts interesting, but they pretty much show who they are in early scenes and keep repeating the effect – the actors have the charisma to bring a bit more to the table, but the film powers on through its plot twists and bursts of high-octane action (accompanied by some inventively repurposed rock riffs), including a couple of splendid foot-chases. I don’t think it’s quite up there with I Saw the Devil or (especially) The Chaser, but it’s reasonably gripping. Written and directed by Lee Won-Tae.
A remake is in the works.