Ma Dong-seok (aka Don Lee) has been moving up in the Korean cinema world for quite some time, with his role in "Train to Busan" actually shooting his career into stardom. Kang Yoon-Sung capitalizes on his fame and by presenting a number of favorite elements among the crime movies aficionados, ends up with a very entertaining film.
The story is based on the 2004 Chinese-Korean gangster mop-up operation in Seoul's Garibong neighborhood (an area where Chinese immigrants have turned into a China Town), during which thirty-two gang members were arrested. Ma Seok-do (Ma Dong-seok) is a local detective, the second in the hierarchy of the organized crime unit in the area, and the enforcer of the team. Being a resident of the area, and by using a combination of looseness towards the head of the minor crime syndicates and violence when is needed, he keeps the local gangs and subsequently the neighborhood, under control. Everything changes though when three, ultraviolent Korean-Chinese gangsters, headed by Jang Chen (Yoon Kye-sang), appear in the area, seizing the organized crime control with their extreme methods, knifing whoever crosses their path. Seok-do and his crew are caught by surprise, due to the ruthless methods of the three, and soon the area is filled with terror.
Kang Yoon-Sung presents an impressive combination of true-story, crime, and action-thriller, with the added value that the film entails much humor, even in its most unexpected moments without losing its seriousness. In that fashion, he avoids the reef of the melodrama so frequently appearing in Korean cinema and manages to stand out from the plethora of similar productions.
Kang based the movie on Ma Dong-seok's performance as Ma Seok-do, and he delivered impressively, personifying the aforementioned aesthetics. However, and although his axis is the one that is the most obvious, there is another one that works quite well, and that is the "race" between Seok-do and Jang Chen, with the two of them being radically different in their use of violence, with the first applying it only when necessary and the second as his first choice. The fact that the two of them do not appear on screen simultaneously, almost at all before the finale, builds the final sequence quite nicely, with the fight being the most impressive scene in the film. This axis is also benefitted the most by Yoon Kye-chang's performance as Jang Chen, who presents a violent sociopath emitting danger from every pore, with gusto. The secondary roles are also quite good, with Jin Seon-kyu as the number two in the triad of the villains being impressive, in extremely violent fashion.
The cinematography of the movie functions well, with the imaging in the poor neighborhood of Garibong capturing the overcrowded essence of the area. The same applies to the editing, as the film retains a rather fast pace, that seems to benefit its script to the fullest.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via email@example.com.
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