BBC iPlayer

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil


BBC iPlayer

Auntie Beeb seems an unlikely place to find this adrenalin-fuelled, kick-ass action movie, but there it is lurking in the vaults of iPlayer, all ready to be unleashed at the touch of a button. Despite that ‘does what it says on the tin’ title, The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil is sure to appeal to fans of Korean cinema – though perhaps not those who ‘enjoyed Parasite but find scenes of exaggerated violence distressing.’ Like many films in this genre, there’s an inordinate amount of fisticuffs, kicks and bullets being exchanged at regular intervals, albeit in a fairly cartoonish sort of way.

‘The Gangster’ of the title is Jung (Ma Dong-seok, previously seen in Train to Busan), a rather unpleasant fellow to be acquainted with, if the contents of his punch bag are anything to go by. Nattily attired and fond of his cigars, he heads up one of the major crime syndicates in his home city of Cheonan and, thanks to the regular bribes he pays to the resident police force, he’s free to ply his various trades – drugs, gambling, extortion, slapping people around – without too much interference.

But, one night, his car is rear-ended by mysterious serial killer, K (Jung Tae-seok – the ‘Devil’ in this narrative), and when Jung gets out to exchange words with him, K viciously assaults the gangster with a large kitchen knife. Not only is this extremely painful for Jung, it’s also something of a professional embarrassment for a man who is supposedly feared by everybody on his home turf. Honestly, what’s the world coming to?

While convalescing from his injuries, Jung is approached by ambitious cop, Jang (Mu-Yeol Kim). He’s exasperated by the fact that his boss is one of the people happily taking bribes from gangsters, and he’s also become obsessed with apprehending K and achieving a promotion as a result. He suggests that Jung might like to team up with him so they can pool their resources in order to catch the killer – a kind of Jung/Jang approach. This all sounds faintly ridiculous – and the claim that the film is ‘based on a true story’ probably needs to be taken with a large pinch of soy – but nevertheless, the result is a proper thrill ride. There are chases, shoot outs and stand offs galore and it’s all backed up by a story that’s clever enough to keep you hooked, even if your eyebrows are likely to remain permanently raised.

Little wonder TGTCTD has already been earmarked for a Hollywood remake, with Sylvester Stallone rumoured to be the major player. Chances are, the Americans will airbrush it until it loses all of its rough charms, so maybe grab your chance to see Won Tae-Lee’s original before it moves on.

Whatever else you feel, you won’t be bored.

4 stars

Philip Caveney



BBC iPlayer

Trans men must be one of the most under-represented groups in the UK. I read a lot of news; I watch a lot of films and, when there are no pandemic restrictions, I am an avid theatre goer. But, despite the (anecdotal) fact that I know more trans men than I do women, I very rarely see them referred to; their stories largely seem to go untold.

Adam, then, is important not just because of what it says, but because it exists at all – and on a mainstream platform too. The BBC is under fire at the moment, but we shouldn’t forget what it offers us. If commercial viability is the only factor by which content is judged, marginalised people remain invisible to the masses, their experiences rendered forever ‘fringe.’

Indeed, Adam premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, a National Theatre of Scotland production at the Traverse Theatre, where it was highly acclaimed. This new version, written by Frances Poet and directed by Cora Bissett and Louise Lockwood, again stars Adam Kashmiry as himself, and chronicles his experiences as an Egyptian trans man, alone and frightened in a Glasgow flat, awaiting the results of his asylum application. Adam can’t return to Egypt: revealing his true identity there could result in his death. But he can’t use his gender identity to claim asylum in the UK until he transitions, and he can’t transition until he is granted asylum. Trapped in this double bind, no wonder Adam struggles to cope…

This hour-long film is beautifully constructed. It does always feel more like a play than a movie, but that’s not to its detriment. Yasmin Al-Khudhairi appears as Adam’s female-looking outer self, and offers us an occasional and understated glimpse into how others perceive him. The rest of the supporting cast is strong too, especially Neshla Caplan as a sour-faced immigration officer. But this is Adam Kashmiry’s story, and it is his film too: his performance is compelling, haunting – and heartwarming. Because, although this story is one of unimaginable hardship and pain, it’s also one of triumph over adversity. Here he is: a free man, telling his own tale.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield

Small Axe: Red, White and Blue


BBC iPlayer

After the experimental Lovers Rock – which I have to confess, really didn’t work for me – Red, White and Blue, sees director Steve McQueen moving back to the kind of material he explored in Mangrove: the rampant racial discrimination experienced by black people in 1980s London. The difference this time around is that the major player here is a black police officer. Once again, it’s based on a true story, that of Leroy Logan (John Boyega), a former research scientist, who, after witnessing the savage beating of his father, Ken (Steve Toussaint), at the hands of two police officers, decides to join the Metropolitan police in the fervent hope that he will be able to improve things from the inside.

Of course, he quickly learns that making such changes is no easy matter and that, once on active duty, he will be unable to count on his white colleagues to back him up in any dangerous situation. But he’s clearly a tenacious individual. Logan stayed in the force until his retirement in 2013 and remains a member of the National Black Police Association.

If this were a Hollywood movie, of course, we’d see Leroy battle his way through appalling odds to emerge at the end, bruised, bloody and victorious. But this is crushingly realistic stuff – the inevitable realisation being that, though things may have improved a little since the 80s, they haven’t improved anything like enough. This story ends pretty much as it starts – with Logan stubbornly refusing to compromise his position.

Boyega is particularly impressive in the lead role – indeed, he dominates this episode and makes it very much his own. A scene where he finally explodes into anger at the callous conduct of his fellow officers is riveting stuff. There’s also a gruffly likeable performance from Toussaint as his father, a man who carries his bottled-up rage around with him like a cross he has to bear.

Next stop, the Brixton Riots. Can’t wait.

4 stars

Philip Caveney