Ma Dong-seok punches his way from Korea to Vietnam, and back again in Lee Sang-yong’s action crime pseudo-comedy.
“Do you know how hard thugs have it?”
I never saw the first film in the Crime City action franchise. In fact, up until I was researching this film I’d never even heard of the Outlaws, and was a touch concerned that I’d come into the sequel The Roundup with something of a disadvantage. Instead, The Roundup follows the old-school Lethal Weapon or Dirty Harry style of sequel where some major protagonists show up and their relationships are expanded upon, but nothing else follows on.
Returning from their previous outing, Detective Ma (Ma Dong-seok) and his captain Jeon Il-man (Choi Gwi-hwa) head to Vietnam to extradite criminal Yoo (Jeon Jin-oh), who has surprisingly turned himself in to the embassy. He explains to them that he is hiding from the violently unhinged Kang Hae-sang (Son Seok-koo), with whom he worked in a kidnapping-turned-murder ring. Ma and Jeon decide to hunt for Kang, despite their lack of jurisdiction, and tear through Vietnam and Korea, one bone-crunching fight scene after the other.
The Roundup’s major positives are twofold: the cast of characters, who have had an entire film to develop their relationships and dynamics, work effortlessly off each other. Ma Dong-seok and Choi Gwi-hwa have an excellent back and forth, and are brilliantly supported by the rest of their unit (actors Heo Dong-won, Ha Jun and Jung Jae-kwang). On the flip side, however, Kang isn’t anything complex as a villain – far from it, but Son Seok-koo plays it with this intense, hyperviolent lunacy that makes the character incredibly engaging, and terrifying to boot.
The second positive is in its tone, which fuses excellently-shot action sequenes with comedic character interactions. Ma’s combination of markedly intimidating physique and nice-guy affability makes him perfect for this type of role. It’s one he’s been perfecting since his turn in Train to Busan, and he’s only gotten better. The Roundup ramps this up to eleven, and gives him almost Hulk-like strength and endurance, as he tears through assassins and doors like they were nothing, every punch emphasised by a comically loud boom sound effect.
It’s thankfully played for laughs: a smart move, as this level of 80s action hero invulnerability doesn’t really fly that well in modern films. The humour is ever-present, and blends the subtle (Ma being unable to speak English despite Dong-seok being raised in the US) and the in-your-face (every interaction with former gangster I-soo), and alleviates what could have turned out to be a very generic action beat-em-up.
All of this culminates in a white-knuckle ransom handover that takes up a solid 40 minutes but is terribly exciting from beginning to end featuring tonnes of literal and metaphorical u-turns, featuring every character introduced. Nothing feels wasted or overdone here, except perhaps some of the violence – but that’s part of the charm. Its simplicity is what makes it work as well as it does. Ultimately, if you’re looking for a pleasing popcorn action movie, you could do a hell of a lot worse than this. There’s a sequel coming next year, but first I gotta catch The Outlaws.
Verdict: Never taking itself too seriously, while also keeping its stakes high, The Roundup delivers a satisfying blend of action, comedy and sequences of people on the phone
Overall entertainment: 9/10
Aspect Ratio: There’s no screen wide enough to fit Ma Dong-seok’s ludicrous frame
Choi’s hired men: You think you’ve seen the worst mercenaries in film, and then the second lot show up
The Roundup (2022)
Also known as: 범죄도시2 (Crime City 2)
Director: Lee Sang-yong
Writer: Kim Min-seong
Ma Dong-seok – Ma Seok-do
Son Seok-koo – Kang Hae-sang
Choi Gwi-hwa – Jeon Il-man
Park Ji-hwan – Jang I-soo
Heo Dong-won – Oh Dong-gyun
Ha Jun – Kang Hong-seok
Lee Joo-won – Park Young-sa
Jung Jae-kwang – Kim Sang-hoon
Nam Moon-cheol – Choi Choon-baek
Park Ji-young – Kim In-sook
Eum Moon-suk – Jang Ki-cheol
Kim Chan-hyung – Jang Soon-cheol
Cha Woo-jin – Choi Yong-gi
Jeon Jin-oh – Yoo Jong-hoon