And no balsamic vinegar.
Set four years after the events from The Outlaws (known as Crime City in Korea), new director Sang-yong Lee and screenwriter Min-Seong Kim bring Detective Ma Seok-do (Ma Dong-seok aka Don Lee) back to the big screen with The Roundup (or 범죄도시2 [Crime City 2]). A standalone film with a couple characters returning via tongue-in-cheek reveals, you really don’t need to know anything beyond what we learn at the start. While Jeon Il-man (Gwi-hwa Choi) is the police captain, he knows it’s better to get out of his prized behemoth of a crime fighter’s way when things start to get out of hand. It’s better to focus on cleaning up the inevitable mess since Ma’s trail of destruction is happening regardless of his support.
That’s why their chief assigns him repatriation duty in Vietnam to collect a Korean national who inexplicably turned himself into police custody. It’s a punishment after Ma’s latest public debacle—one that lands him on the front page of the newspaper after saving two hostages and putting their assailant in the ICU. The thought is that he can’t get into trouble in Ho Chi Minh City because he has no jurisdiction. Local authorities have their hands full with a spate of kidnappings (the year is 2008 and criminals in self-exile from their homelands have taken up shop in Vietnam to harass tourists), so they have no time for foreigners going rogue. One wrong move and the Vietnamese will deport him without sympathy. Grab the guy and go home.
Ma can’t turn off, though. Captain Jeon chooses himself to be his escort for this well-earned company-paid vacation—a decision he regrets almost immediately. Why? Because a career lowlife like the one they’re picking up doesn’t just surrender out-of-the-blue. Something has happened to scare him more than jailtime. Something has him so spooked that he wants nothing more than to get back to Korea and deal with whatever consequences await. So, Ma goes bad cop, his formidable presence in comparison to everyone else on-screen lending a comical juxtaposition that the filmmakers lean into with scenes like Ma banging on a desk to perforate his perp’s eardrum causing the Korean ambassador to wonder if someone’s doing construction. It appears a monster (Sukku Son‘s Kang Hae-sang) is on the loose.
A lot happens from here. Between a bloodbath in Vietnam, a car chase in Korea, and a bad-ass climactic brawl on a public bus, this babysitting assignment turned illegal investigation proves an action-packed thrill ride with the perfect amount of humor to keep us entertained. Jeon might be rendered permanently inert when it comes to keeping Ma on a leash of any length, but he’s willing to risk his own life following his detective’s lead (especially if he can embellish his role afterwards with the guys). The two must face down guns (something they don’t need to worry about in Korea) and machetes wielded by vicious psychopaths ready to chop up anyone who gets in the way of their million dollar payday. Steel can’t compare to Ma’s fists.
Kang isn’t to be trifled with by any stretch of the imagination. Cross him and he’ll kill you. Put six mercenaries inside his hotel room and he’ll smile before mowing through them. It takes at least two police officers in tandem to stop him from swinging his blade let alone subdue him and yet Ma enters with an arm lock flip and punch that’s heavy enough to knock him through a wall. If Ma Dong-seok wasn’t so scary when he becomes a one-man wrecking crew, I’d laugh at the sheer absurdity of him rag-dolling men who just shrugged off multiple paid assassins simultaneously. He knows it too. He’ll peer upon the carnage he’s wrought and wince embarrassedly before quickly leaving the scene so as not get yelled at.
The result is a non-stop cat-and-mouse chase that puts so many of the action films we’re used to seeing from Hollywood to shame. The filmmakers balance the tone perfectly—thanks to Ma’s charismatic ability to shift from subtle humor to extreme violence on a dime—and keep things moving smoothly despite a ton of moving parts. Because while it’s ultimately Ma versus Kang, the two are always just missing each other as the setting shifts and new players enter the fray. We’re talking Korean conmen like Jang Isu (Ji-hwan Park), business magnates like Choi Chun-baek (Moon-cheol Nam), assassin brothers, angry Vietnamese police, smugglers, and Ma’s own bunch of officers offering up support and their bodies to be dispatched with along the way. A lot of blood gets spilled.
There’s a lot of whining too considering few characters beyond Kang (Sukku Son delivers a memorably homicidal villain) and the mercenaries actually want to mess with Ma. All his detective must do is threaten them with violence and many cower before giving up what information they might have. And even though the Koreans don’t deal with guns often, Ma isn’t afraid to disarm someone waving one in his face. Start pointing it back and tough guys fall in line really quick (what a difference from American films with every single person having at least two guns and four clips of bullets on their person at all times). By using knives as the weapon of choice, the fight choreography stays close so Ma can work his brutal MMA magic.
courtesy of the Fantasia International Film Festival