Jung Tae-seok

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil

01/04/21

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