The Gangster The Cop The Devil review

At the outset, the concept of The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is the stuff of genre genius – a hard-nosed, irascible cop and tough guy crime boss become allies to combat a shared enemy when a knife-wielding serial killer comes to town. Lee Won-tae’s film has such an extraordinary premise, ripe for exploration, that it can’t help but feel a little bit disappointing when such a relatively straightforward flick is the result.

Ma Dong-seok (aka “Don Lee”) is best known to international audiences for his role in Train to Busan, and he above any member of the ensemble completely inhabits his role as Jang Dong-su, the burly crime boss with a moral code. There’s a scene with a punching bag that in a few brief moments displays the film at its darkly comedic best, further emphasizing the physicality and presence of this fine actor.

The titular cop Jun Tae-Sok (Kim Mu-yeol) evokes numerous stereotypes of the genre as well, a lawman who balks at the whims of his superiors and bends the rules to seek out a higher justice. Paired with Jang, the two make an effective odd couple, bickering and brawling in equal measure.

Then there’s “the devil” (Kim Seong-gyu), who, like any diabolical creature, is mostly seen in half glimpses caught through the rain and dark. He’s more ethereal than anything, a creature with little in the way of motivation save for violence and chaos. As such he’s actually the least interesting character, merely something to confront rather than something to be chilled or thrilled by. As written, there’s a lack of guile and charm that the best on-screen sociopaths can provide (think Hannibal Lecter or Ledger’s take on The Joker), and despite wild grimaces and flashes of sharp cutlery, there’s little that’s truly enticing about this killer.

The storyline plays out in highly conventional ways, yet throughout there are moments of blistering action and fine buddy comedy moments that help elevate the work. Car chases and fisticuffs are often the stuff of South Korean films, and here the prowess of the homegrown stunt coordinators is definitely on display. Unfortunately, despite all these visual pyrotechnics, it doesn’t quite rise to the level of some of the more artful action pieces to come from Korea, feeling more rote than remarkable.

There’s a definite sense that Lee Won-tae’s film is onto something, and a reported remake involving Sylvester Stallone may well iron out some of the edges and more fitfully expand upon this excellent concept. Given that Ma Dong-seok is set to return, there’s plenty of promise here that we’ll be in for an even more thrilling treat the second time around.

As it stands, this is a movie with a great idea and pretty decent execution, one where the fists fly, the cars crash, and you actually care about the characters involved. With a bit of tweaking, especially with regard to the Devil character to make him (or her!) more chilling and compelling, there’s the opportunity to up the ante even further and craft a magnificent film. For now, we’ve got a great bit of genre fun, a movie that at once evokes the rich history of this kind of film with its iconic character types, yet does so with enough originality and confidence to make The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil a powerful tale of its own.

/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

About the Author

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor of ThatShelf.com, Features Editor at DTK Magazine and a critic for HighDefDigest.