J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil—They Do Not Walk into a Bar Together

There are two basic strategies serial killers can opt for to select their prey: obsessive observation and stalking or pure randomness. The latter has the advantage of following no discernible patterns for the police to trace. The downside is a potential target like Jang Dong-su. The beefy gangster is really hard to kill and he has an army of foot soldiers to search for his mystery assailant. Frankly, the killer would probably be better off if the ethically ambiguous national copper Jung Tae-seok finds him first in Lee Won-tae’s deliciously twisted The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil, which opens this Friday in New York.

Jang is played by the mighty Don Lee (Ma Dong-seok), so nobody in their right mind would mess with him. Of course, that is precisely the case with the psychotic “K.” He thinks he has the drop on Jang with his usual minor fender-bender M.O., but it takes more than a few stabs to kill the Paul Bunyon-esque crime lord.

Initially, Jang’s gang assumes the attack was the work of a rival faction, but he calls off the war when he comes to. Not surprisingly, he is inclined to solve the matter personally rather than cooperate with Jung’s investigation. However, they forge a tentative alliance to coordinate intel and resources to track down the killer. They start betraying and double-crossing each other almost immediately, but they still keep returning to their basic agreement, for the sake of preventing further murders and scoring some stone-cold payback, so, yeah.

South Korea has always demonstrated a clear comparative advantage when it comes to producing serial killer thrillers, but GCD takes the genre to new sinister heights. Lee Won-tae came up with the mother of all high concepts and his execution barrels forward with the energy of a runaway freight train. Plus, it is just jolly good fun to watch Don Lee and Kim Moo-yul scheme, fight, and bicker together as Jang and Jung, respectively. Lee could very well be the only man in the world who could credibly play Jang, who we can easily believe would survive multiple stab wounds to the torso. Train to Busan already made him a star, but GCD should definitely be a next-level-up movie for him.

Yet, maybe the biggest surprise is how well Kim hangs with him. He is spectacularly sleazy and nakedly self-serving, but we also believe he genuinely wants to stop the murders. As K, Kim Sung-kyu is undeniably creepy and coldly clammy, but he is somewhat overshadowed by the larger-than-life flamboyance of Lee and Kim Moo-yul.

GCD is so wickedly clever, the American remake rights have already been snapped up. Unfortunately, it was Sylvester Stallone who nabbed the hot property, which doesn’t inspire much confidence anymore. On the plus side, Don Lee is already attached to reprise his portrayal of Jang, which is cause for cautious optimism. Regardless, there can be little doubt the original will be the better film—and it is the one opening this week. Very highly recommended, The Gangster, The Cop, the Devil opens this Friday (6/7) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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