When gangster Jang Dong-soo (Ma Dong-seok) is viciously attacked by a serial killer (Kim Sung-kyu), he is forced to team up with rogue cop Jung Tae-suk (Kim Mu-yeol) to take the psychopath down. It’s a simple premise and one which director Lee Won-tae executes with testosterone-fuelled style, if not much substance.
As its name suggests, THE GANGSTER, THE COP, THE DEVIL is a film which wastes no time throwing you straight into the action. Fights are violent and visceral, and the impact of every brutally choreographed punch shakes through the screen and into your gut. Bodies fly left and right like blood-soaked circus performers, and the camera moves to meet them, dipping and diving around the battlefield as though it were an active participant in the bloodbath. Cinematographer Park Se-seung knows how to imbue each scene with a level of frantic energy, and he uses it to full effect.
Impressive action would mean nothing if the performances weren’t up to scratch, but fortunately, every hit thrown and line spoken is brimming with an explosive over-the-top style. The dynamic between Jang and Jung is immediately entertaining, and Kim Sung-kyu chews the scenery with barely restrained glee in his portrayal of the quiet, deranged serial killer.
“Lee Won-tae’s expertly crafted, stunningly choreographed thriller of three men locked in a fatal game of cat and mouse is a sight to behold, but is held back by shallow characters and questionable themes.”
Nonetheless, for all its blustering charm and masterful action, THE GANGSTER, THE COP, THE DEVIL remains undeniably shallow. Characters are clichéd and one-sided to the point of parody – the rebellious cop who doesn’t play by the rules, the hard-edged gangster out for revenge, and the silent, ever-smiling psychopath. There’s a certain primitive appeal in seeing these overblown archetypes go head to head in such extravagant fashion, but in terms of deeper meaning, Won-tae’s thriller is left feeling noticeably bare.
In addition, the ending of the film – inadvertently or otherwise – is morally questionable, seeming to praise hyper-masculine, violent behaviour regardless of its wider impact on society. Considering the fact that there is only one female character in the film (and that she has a grand total of two lines) THE GANGSTER, THE COP, THE DEVIL starts to seem as flippant and thoughtless as the characters it presents.
Lee Won-tae’s expertly crafted, stunningly choreographed thriller of three men locked in a fatal game of cat and mouse is a sight to behold but is held back by shallow characters and questionable themes.