Director: Lee Sang-Yong
Cast: Ma Dong-Seok, Lee Joon-Hyuk, Munetaka Aoki, Jun Kunimura, Lee Beom-Soo, Kim Min-jae, Jun Suk-ho, Ko Kyu-phil, Bae Noo-ri, Lee Ji-hoon
Duration: 105 mins.
By Paul Bramhall
The phrase “that’s the role he was born to play” may be a cliché, but it’s hard to think of a more apt phrase when it comes to Ma Dong-seok playing the witty, hammer-fisted detective Ma Seok-do. Introduced in 2017 The Outlawsbased on the previous decade’s Heuksapa Incident (an operation involving the arrest of Chinese gangs), when the 2022 sequel came in the form of The rundown, the producers were smart enough to figure out that Dong-seok was the selling point. For the 2na long ago there was no “real life” setting, instead it pitted Dong-seok against a vicious Korean criminal extorting other expats living in Vietnam. The rundown successfully brought everything that worked so well in the original up to 11, to the point where 2 more installments were immediately greenlit to go into production.
How to top adrenaline-pumping entertainment Dong-seok’s second outing as a one-man human wrecking ball delivered is a legitimate question to ask, and in The roundup: no way out it becomes apparent very quickly that the most obvious, and perhaps only, answer is to offer more of the same thing. Not unexpectedly, this turns out to be the 3rd rate greatest strength, as well as its greatest weakness. While some scenes in The rundown that looked familiar The Outlaws got a pass because 5 years had passed between their respective outings, here’s the comeback Director of The rundown Lee Sang-yong (for whom No way out marks his second directing effort) chooses to use that same familiarity as a comforting model.
Like previous entries, the proceedings open with the aim of establishing the villain’s viciousness, done through the prerequisite manner of inflicting a bloody beating on a helpless victim. Cut to a crime in progress that allows Dong-seok to enter, the camera follows him from behind, before giving him the opportunity to turn off the lights of some hapless criminals. The final scenes also stick to the same tradition established in The rundown. Writing a review at the time of its release, it’s fair to say that such items could probably age well for those watching No way out with more time between installments. However, it’s only been 11 months since then The rundown has been released, it’s easy to feel a sense of déjà vu with many of the tropes Sang-yong repeats so soon, and with The roundup: punishment already in the bag, hopefully we will have a little more breathing space before the next round.
While the previous rumors happened in 2004 and 2008, respectively, in No way out we jump forward 7 years to 2015, making it the most contemporary tone yet (characters now have smartphones!). After a victim is found to have traces of a new drug called Hiper in their blood, Dong-seok sets out to find the source and bring those responsible to justice. Several right hooks later and the obligatory visit to the “room of truth”, all paths lead to the Japanese yakuza and a corrupt police officer who helped facilitate the drug supply. Japanese involvement allows for a welcome cameo from Jun Kunimura (Kate, Indignation) as head of the yakuza, here doing his 2na appearance in a Korean production after her memorable role in Na Hong-jin’s The lament.
Taking center stage as the main villains though are Lee Joon-hyuk (Baseball girl, No mercy) as the corrupt police officer, and Munetake Aoki (Canako’s World, Battle Royale II) as a katana-wielding repairman whom Kunimura sends to Korea. The reason for Aoki’s trip is that Joon-hyuk has been skimming drugs from above to do lucrative business with the Chinese, resulting in a 20-kilo stash of Hiper worth millions going missing once Kunimura learns about the betrayal of Joon-hyuk, leaving both sides. (and not forgetting the good cops!) hunting for the product. The conflict results in a lot of hacking and cutting expected between the yakuza and the crooked cops, however the downside is that conflict between 2 groups of bad guys sometimes leaves Dong-seok and his crew left to constantly chase their tail rather than being directly involved. in the action.
Speaking of Dong-seok’s crew, he finds a new team to work with this time, losing the familiar faces of the The Outlaws AND The rundown. While Dong-seok has always been the star of the show, his colleagues have played an important role for him to bounce back: from the boss played by Choi Gwi-ha, their exhausted superior played by Jung In-gi, the rookie played by Ha Jun, and his fellow detectives played by the likes of Heo Dong-won. While they may not have been particularly insightful, their presence helped build the world Dong-seok operates in, providing him with something of an extended family, so to see them disappear into action here without any explanation is definitely a detractor. I would assume that with No way out getting the green light so quickly, many of them may not have been available, but as it stands we have reliable character actor Kim Min-jae (peninsula, Unstoppable) as Dong-seok’s new partner this time.
As a second film, it’s sometimes easy to think that director Sang-yong felt the burden of keeping up the momentum for what is essentially becoming a franchise. No way out it takes a while to find its rhythm, with proceedings almost too intense to jump right into the action. Dong-seok’s involvement in the case is literally explained through a throwaway scene involving a phone call, in which he tells his superior that the case shouldn’t be turned over to narcotics since a homicide was involved, so he’ll deal with it. Similarly, an early scene in a club feels a bit forced, almost like watching Dong-seok knocking a burly bouncer down with a single punch should be enough to meet audience expectations, even if it’s too early in the plot to be fully involved.
Thankfully, as the narrative progresses, it gets into the swing of things, and while the ever-escalating action scenes don’t necessarily bring much variety in terms of execution, considering how long fans have been saying they’d watch anything in which Ma Dong-seok punches people (I was one of them), it is hypocritical to complain. If ever here he’s as unstoppable as ever, he punches someone hard enough to get dirty and even gets hit by a car, before getting up and going through the rest of the film as if nothing had happened. The only downside is that as much as Dong-seok has found his calling as an anvil-fisted detective, there’s an undeniable sense that the villains this time around simply don’t feel quite as menacing as Yoon Kye sang (The Outlaws) or Son Sukku (The rundown). Sure, they’re brutal, but that slightly unhinged edge that Kye-sang and Sukku brought to the table just isn’t there.
It might even be a conscious decision, since the comedy is heightened even more here, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The biggest laughs belong to Dong-seok, with an interrogation scene in a love hotel being the highlight, and there’s a knowing nod to action movies in how the rest of the cops always arrive at the scene right after finishing a fight, leading him to repeatedly complain about how they are constantly late. In this way it seems that the series shares the same DNA with the likes of Dirty Harry AND Lethal Weapon franchise, keeping the basic structure of the good guy has to catch the bad guy, but also get funnier with each entry. No way out it is definitely more The performer its is Lethal Weapon 3but we will see in which direction The roundup: punishment picks up the series, which kicks off in a post-credits sequence that features a welcome cameo, and pushes proceedings again to 2018.
Definitely The roundup: no way out it would never live up to its predecessor. When everything has already been successfully bumped up to 11, it will always be difficult to go beyond that, so the best you can do is try to keep the volume the same and hope that the audience still appreciates how loud it is. From that point of view, Sang-yong and Dong-seok do an admirable job, but it’s impossible to deny that they also did a very safe one.
Paul Bramhall’s assessment: 6.5/10