Force of justice Ma Seok-do returns five years after The Outlaws to right more wrongs in jet-setting action comedy, The Roundup (범죄도시 2, Beomjoidosi 2). By this stage in his career, actor Ma Dong-seok has succeeded in creating a persona for himself as a loveable bruiser whose violence is just a way of being and always in service of a greater good. These are qualities very much in play as Seok-do (Ma Dong-seok) finds himself defending the interests of Korean citizens abroad against crooks the cops failed to catch at home.
Seok-do is however in the dog house for being accused of using excessive force in the papers after neutralising a hostage incident in a convenience store. To keep him off the front pages, the higher ups decide to send him on a mini mission abroad bringing home a Korean fugitive who has apparently turned himself in to the Vietnamese authorities. Given that this is quite an odd thing to do and the criminal’s explanation that he was suddenly overcome with guilt and wanted to repay his debt to society doesn’t ring true, Seok-do smells a rat. As he discovers, it all points back to the kidnapping and murder of a rich man’s son by vicious gangster Hae-sang (Son Seok-koo) who preys on unsuspecting tourists. Rather than get the police involved, the boy’s father has decided to hire a bunch of mercenaries to take revenge further destabilising the local underworld in Ho Chi Min City.
It has to be said that there is something a little uncomfortable in the quasi-nationalist posturing of the film’s central premise. Korea has effectively been exporting crime by allowing dangerous criminals to flee abroad where the law can’t touch them. Korean crooks then make trouble for Korean tourists even if not quite to the extent of Hae-sang, all of which ignores the effects on the local Vietnamese population in concentrating on Korean on Korean crime. At the end of the film it’s even suggested that Korean police officers might be dispatched to other areas of Asia to look after Korean tourists which shows a certain lack of respect for national sovereignties while more or less letting the same police officers off the hook for failing to catch criminals in Korea or address the issues which led to them entering lives of crime. A maverick cop, Seok-do does rather throw his weight around in a foreign country, caring little for protocol and threatening to spark a diplomatic incident every few seconds.
Then again he is just particularly keen on shutting down Hae-sang and exposing him for his heinous acts, cleaning up a mess that has ended up spilling over abroad. Ironically enough, the bereaved father, Choi (Nam Moon-cheol), maybe a powerful CEO but he made his money loansharking and is pretty much a petty gangster himself so of course he wants personal vengeance once again uncomfortably hiring mercenaries from China. Meanwhile, Seok-do ends up enlisting the help of a formerly undocumented migrant when Choi ends up getting kidnapped himself by a cornered Hae-sang.
In any case, Seok-do more than holds his own against the bloodthirsty villains in a series of well choreographed action sequences culminating in a one-on-one showdown on a bus. Much of Ma’s appeal lies in his effortless ability to take down bad guys which he does a plenty, even dispatching one via escalator to his waiting teammates below. Even so, he knows not to take himself too seriously and is keen to cede screen time to the ensemble allowing a gentle camaraderie to appear among his squad members despite their separation while Seok-do and the Captain are in Vietnam trying to have a covert holiday and the rest of the team are left behind to do regular admin work in the office. Though it may present some rather uncomfortable ideas in a kind of Korean exceptionalism that implies a degree of superiority over and disregard towards other Asian nations, the film is nevertheless a charming retro action comedy and perfect showcase for the charismatic star as his no-nonsense policeman makes a point of slapping down bad guys and fighting international crime while generally living his best life hanging out with similarly justice-orientated buddies.
The Roundup screens in Amsterdam on 27th October & 4th November as part of this year’s Imagine Fantastic Film Festival.
International trailer (English subtitles)