Tuesday, May 14, 2024

The Roundup: Punishment

I originally had a reservation for last Thursday, figuring this would be a one-week booking and that was the only day I had free after IFFBoston, but canceled it for the Somerville's member screening of The Hunt for Red October when I saw it would run another week, and with a pretty full schedule at that. Not totally full; there was a gap where the show i would have really liked to go to would be on Monday, but it's going to be running through at least Wednesday the 22nd, and that seems to be a pretty good run, even if it doesn't taper off for a white after that. I guess people enjoy watching Ma Dong-seok round people up!

Of course, part of it may just be that Korean movies have seemed to do better since Causeway re-opened and they started playing there. I don't know if it's just more convenient to the area's Korean-American population, if they're catching some late-ish Korean pop culture wave, or if there's always been an audience but AMC just needed a few more screens in the area to let the bookings breathe. It certainly seems like there's less of a mad scramble to see these movies nowadays, and much less "guess I'm going to have to kill a day going to Revere". Not that you can go to Revere to see movies any more, that place is an Amazon distribution center, but it's nice to have these things downtown.

Aside - this movie has to be based on the same specific incident as last year's Chinese film No More Bets, right? I mean, I hope this isn't so common that I'd have to worry about any programming job I take should I get laid off leading to coding in a cage with live-streamed blackjack dealers in the next room!

Beomjoedosi4 (The Roundup: Punishment)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 May 2024 in AMC Causeway Street #6 (first-run, DCP)

After a five-year gap between The Outlaws and The Roundup, they seem to be putting out a new one of these every year, which isn't necessarily a recipe for great cinema, but there's something to be said for reliability: You pay your money, you get Ma Dong-seok (aka Don Lee) punching people who need punching, and you can't exactly say that the film hasn't delivered what it promised. It's not exactly ambitious cops & robbers or grand adventure, but it's maybe a bit better than the basic action that normally goes direct to video. It gets the job done if you think this sort of thing is worth the price of a movie ticket.

It's 2018, and as the film opens, a Korean man is fleeing pursuers in the Philippines carrying a thumb drive, but his pursuers led by tattooed gangster Baek Chang-gi (Kim Mu-yeol) finally catch up. In Seoul, Detective Ma Seok-do (Lee) and his team are busting up a group of drug dealers who have built an app to allow their customers to order delivery, and soon learn that the source code was attributed to that poor guy in Manilla. This sort of thing is not Ma's forte, so they pull in Han Ji-su (Lee Joo-bin) from cyber division to form a task force, as Chang-gi arrives in South Korea, looking to confront Chang Dong-cheol (Lee Dong-hwi), the IT magnate funding his online casino who has dragged his heels cutting the gangster in for more, preferring to focus on his upcoming crypto offering.

As mentioned, this is the third Roundup cranked out in as many years, and while the filmmakers do try and shake things up - Seok-do and his squad have gone from organized crime to kidnapping to homicide to cyber-crime - but the screenwriters seem to have a checklist: Friendly but insubordinate to superiors, particularly the captain? Check. The "Room of Truth"? Check. Getting the case taken away because it's too complicated for a big lug who punches people? Check. Memorable caricature from the last movie brought back in to help? Check. Even the "I've gotta solve this case, I made a promise to the victim's mother" seems like a placeholder until they've got better material for Seok-d and his team. Maybe it works a bit better in the original Korean, but it highlights that the fun characters, such as they are, are the bad guys fighting among themselves.

As a result, the movie offers a small fraction of what Lee is capable of, only occasionally making much use of how charming and funny he is; there's a mean streak to the jokes that these films try to sell as goofball, and even playing off his partners is kind of playing the hits (there's also a bunch of jokes implying Seok-do is not just kind of bad at tech but dumb, which isn't exactly the vibe from the other Roundups). Lee is still fun to watch, because even when the one-liners are bad his timing is great, and Lee Joo-bin feels like she could be a fun addition to the team as the tech expert eager to do some actual cop stuff. The goofy collegiality of the cops is cannily countered by Kim Mu-yeol and Lee Dong-hwi as a gangland vet who scans blue-collar and the arrogant techbro who legitimately detest each other.

At least the fighting is good, with nasty knife-wielding baddies and small spaces that keep Lee from winding up to release a haymaker until it's really satisfying. As in previous installments, the filmmakers know that the pleasure comes from seeing Seok-do solve problems with his fists, and are careful to not get into territory where, say, a gun or a car chase would make more sense while still creating challenges. The first is potentially the most clever, but most are solid, whether lining folks up to show Seok-do's boxing technique to a finale that sells an (initially) unarmed Chang-gi having a chance.

It's basic hero-cop movie material, but I ask you - who doesn't kind of want to see internet gambling get punched repeatedly in the face, especially if they've watched any televised sports over the past couple of years? At some point I'm going to take that Korean disc of The Outlaws off the shelf and watch it, because I gather that's a different sort of movie. The Roundup sequels feel like the things Lee does to keep his hand in and profile up between more interesting projects - there's something to be written about him having the charisma and profile of a movie star but working best as part of an ensemble - but they do the job.

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