A gangster tries to turn over a new leaf in Kang Yoon-Sung’s slick comedy.
“His crush will ruin everything.”
What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done for a crush? Pretended to be into something you weren’t; perhaps you’ve changed dress sense, or gone to a concert for a band you’ve hated? Have you ever abandoned your entire way of life and run for political office?
Jang Se-chool (Kim Rae-won) is a gangster enforcer of sorts, working on behalf of developers who want to build an amusement park over the top of small shops. He arrives at the protest and meerts lawyer Kang So-hyun (Won Jin-a), with whom he immediately falls in love. However, she is naturally dismissive of Se-chool, which encourages him to change his ways and become a good person. He seeks out Hwang Bo-yoon (Choi Moo-sung), a former gangster-turned-respected politician, who runs a beloved café downtown.
Se-chool begs Hwang for help and eventually – along with Kang – is allowed to help Hwang in his bid to run for office. Meanwhile, two-term winner Choi (Choi Gwi-hwa) is also running, though he resorts to underhanded tactics: if he loses, the development plan will no doubt go under. He hires mob boss Kwang-choon (Jin Seon-kyu) to take care of the problem, and somehow this results in Se-chool running instead of Hwang.
Based off – of all things – a webcomic – Long Live the King is something of a straightforward, easygoing film. Its premise is standard, and the story plays out in a fairly by-the-numbers way. But that doesn’t mean that it’s bad: far from it. Where it could easily bore us with a story we’ve seen hundreds of times Long Live the King has so much personality that it’s near impossible to dismiss as run-of-the-mill. A large part of this has to do with the overall atmosphere; it never tries to trick us with big twists and likes to keep things light and breezy. After all, we know everything’s going to end up well, and we can enjoy the journey a lot more.
The leads are great to watch and have very captivating personalities, but they don’t have the most to offer. They’re likeable, certainly, but it’s in the secondary cast that the characters really shine. Choi Moo-sung’s Hwang is so kind-hearted and down-to-earth that he’s impossible to hate and Choi Gwi-hwa makes such a great, cartoony villain that watching him is insanely fun. He grits his teeth and forces giant smiles on camera, and loses his shit around his subordinates every time he suffers a loss. You want him to lose so badly that every time he unravels even a little bit, it’s very satisfying to witness.
Sometimes the drama feels forced, especially near the end of the movie, but it’s nothing that outright ruins the experience. At some point around the start of the second act is a big action sequence that, while tense and exciting, sort of comes out of nowhere, throwing this terrible CGI bus at the audience that feels like it’s from another movie. Some of these moments do seem out of place, and in a film with already a tonne of moving parts are probably unnecessary.
But overall you’re probably going to have a really good time watching this. Its lighthearted and jovial tone keeps things most breezy and when you couple it with the simple, feel-good story you’re left with something that you’ll leave the cinema smiling about. We all love a good redemption story and Long Live the King proves that, unlike many countless gangster dramas, there’s life to be had beyond the gang. Although a part of me does wonder: what would have happened if Kang had been married, or simply completely uninterested in Se-chool? Probably best not to think about it.
Verdict: Long Live the King is an unassuming feel-good film that knows exactly what it’s doing.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Part-timers: Really get a lot of shit, don’t they?
Snack of choice: An entire octopus
Hwang: Seriously, how does he afford to keep his restaurant running?
Long Live the King (2019)
Director: Kang Yoon-Sung
Writers: Beodeunamoosoop (original comic), Kang Yoon-Sung
Kim Rae-Won – Jang Se-chool
Won Jin-A – Kang So-hyun
Jin Seon-Kyu – Jo Kwang-choon
Choi Gwi-Hwa – Choi Man-soo
Choi Moo-Sung – Hwang Bo-Yoon
Joo Jin-Mo – So-Pal
Choi Jae-Hwan – Ho-tae
Cha Yub – Geun-bae
Yoo Hee-je – Jjang-Gu
Lim Hyung-joon – Man-sub