PUBLIC ENEMY (2002) and ANOTHER PUBLIC ENEMY (2005). DIRECTED BY KANG WOO-SEOK. STARRING SUL KYUNG-GU.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘Some people think they can get away with anything. Some people do.’
These two Korean cops-and-robbers thrillers really livened up my lockdown this past week, especially as they were accompanied by the drinking of a nice bottle of sake from the local Asian market and followed each time by the adding of noodles to boiling water. Well, staying in is the new going-out, lol.
Both films star Sul Kyung-Gu as basically the same character, a law enforcer called Kang, but ANOTHER PUBLIC ENEMY isn’t a direct follow-on; it’s more what’s called ‘a disconnected sequel,’ starring many of the same actors but in different roles.
In PUBLIC ENEMY, Detective Kang is a maverick cop. You know, the one who has his own distinctive unorthodox style, but which always yields results, nonetheless. He plays by his own rules. He’s a rogue, a renegade. He goes his own way. Here, Kang is a scruffy, bad-tempered almost-psychopath with a short fuse. He’s corrupt, he takes bribes, he ‘fixes’ evidence. But he gets results. Here, in his own words, is how he gets his results:
‘No money, I beat him. Don’t listen to me, I beat him. His face upsets me, I beat him. There’s about a whole stadium full of guys who got beaten by me.’
Yep, you got it. He hits people. There’s a lot of hitting in the film, and it’s not all done by Kang, either. Kang’s own superiors are equally accustomed to bawling out the rogue detective and walloping him upside-the-head, while underneath harbouring a deep fondness for the loose cannon of a cop whose heart, at least, is in the right place. A lot of the very genuine comedy in the film derives from the slapstick humour and casual knockabout violence.
Anyone, one dark, rainy night, Detective Kang is on a stakeout when he’s- ahem- caught short and urgently needs to do a Number Two. Having no choice but to find a quiet street corner in which to relieve himself, he afterwards encounters a tall, sinister man in an I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER-style rain slicker. They literally run into each other, and Detective Kang gets deliberately slashed across the face with the man’s knife…
Shortly after this fateful night, Kang’s department has to solve the mystery of the fatal stabbing of a rich young businessman’s parents in their home. Kang thinks back to the night of the alfresco poo in the spilling rain and the man in the rain slicker. From this point onwards, two equally matched, equally dogged adversaries, one of whom is, of course, Kang, are locked in a battle for supremacy which neither of them wants to lose. My money’s on Kang, he’s just so damn dogged…!
The way in which Kang pursues his prey in this one is so funny. Imagine the pudgy, out-of-shape Chief Wiggum from THE SIMPSONS puffing and panting alongside a much fitter, jogging criminal, struggling to keep up, yelling intermittently at him ‘Didja do it?,’ and you’ll know where I’m coming from…
In ANOTHER PUBLIC ENEMY, Kang has seemingly risen through the ranks to become a prosecutor. He wears a suit, he’s clean-shaven, he lives for his work. We know even less about his personal life here than we knew about Detective Kang’s from the first film. Kang from the first film was a single dad of two little girls who were being minded by his mum, their granny, because apparently his wife had been stabbed to death. His mum yells at him like he’s a teenager for the hours he keeps.
Kang in the second film has little or no personal life. I don’t think we even see his apartment at any point. There’s an extremely strong bond between him and the men he works with, however, the men who put their lives on the line every day for the sake of justice.
The scene where one of his colleagues is murdered in cold blood after being mistaken for Kang is heart-wrenching. There’s a lot of very strong, powerful emotion in this film, more so than in the first. The first film makes us laugh out loud; the second, cry as if we’ve just sat through the video for Johnny Cash’s HURT on a continual loop for half a day…
In the second film, Kang is hunting down yet another upper class young millionaire type, a Mr. Han Sang-Woo, only this chap is more in the multi-millionaire or even billionaire class. Coincidentally, he’s a chap with whom Kang went to school, a posh little privileged boy who always came out of every scrape smelling like guest-room soap, because that’s how the rich folks roll.
Han’s rich father and older brother have both died under suspicious circumstances, leaving Han in charge of the family Foundation, a multi-billion dollar concern. He’s been selling off various elements of the Foundation, however, and transferring the money to America in what Kang strongly suspects are illegal transfers. When Kang is asked to investigate the accident which put Han’s brother in the coma from which he never wakes up, he does it with the aggravating thoroughness with which he does everything…
This second film is a kind of a moral lesson, about the super-rich and powerful people who think they can commit crimes willy-nilly and get away with it, and the cops who try desperately to bring them to book.
Kang knows that pursuing the rich and powerful ruling class won’t endear him to the higher-ups in the force, but fortunately he’s got a boss as committed as he is to rooting out corruption and murder wherever he sees it, whether the perpetrator is a lowly scumbag drug-dealer or a trust fund baby, born with a silver spoon in his mouth and the unshakeable feeling that the world and everything in it is his own personal playground, just because he’s rich.
These two Korean films are a terrific watch. I’m not sure if there are any more of them out there, which would be fantastic, but at least watch these two Noughties gems and liven up your lockdown. I promise you they’ll do the job…! (Just googled it; there’s a PUBLIC ENEMY RETURNS from 2008!!!)
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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