Although its final act shreds credulity, and the structure is a bit wonky, this pulpy crime thriller from Korea is still a real kick in the head. Like so many of the genre that hail from Seoul and its suburbs, this one punches well above its weight with an inventive reworking of well-worn plot tropes and slick production values.
Supposedly, this was inspired by real events from a decade ago, but, while the 2005 setting is mentioned, it’s barely relevant. Writer-director Lee Won-Tae posits an unlikely alliance between rule-averse but goal-oriented cop Jung (Kim Mu-yeol) and seasoned crime-world kingpin Jang (densely made but light on his feet Ma Dong-seok, from Train to Busan) to catch murderer K (Kim Sung-kyu).
Armed with what looks like a fearsome sushi knife and the haircut and cheekbones of a K-pop star, seemingly motiveless madman K has been killing motorists after minor fender-bending incidents for some time, but Jung’s superiors scoff at the idea of an American-style serial killer in Korea. But when K attacks Jang one night and encounters a foe who typically pulls out people’s teeth with his bare hands for fun, he not only fails to kill his victim but creates another adversary set on revenge.
Jung and Jang strike a deal to help each other to hunt down their common enemy, a cute premise that Lee manages to sell with enough sizzle and style to keep it from tugging at the logic threads too hard. There’s a snazzy car chase through the city that smashes up assorted street carts and trash cans, and lots of yeasty, enthusiastic fisticuffs and bloodletting.
Ma, with his natty suits and ruthless glare, brings heft and humour to the proceedings and easily upstages his pretty-boy co-stars. It’s rumoured that Sylvester Stallone has snagged the remake rights, and it’s easy to guess which role he might choose for himself.
• The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil is released in the UK on 15 November.