dir: Lee Sang-yong
This film, with the most generic of titles, is the third in a series.
None of that matters.
Here, at least in a country outside of South Korea, the title is the ineffable The Roundup: No Way Out. The title is purest nonsense. There is no rounding up of anyone or anything. Nothing is rounded up or down. There are no horrible herbicides from Monsanto or Bayer sprayed on any plants during the course of the film. There is no Taking Down or Up of anything either. And there are multiple ways out. It could just as easily have been called The Takedown Roundup Countdown Electric Boogaloo Part Three
None of that matters.
It’s set mostly in Seoul and Incheon, and has to do with Korean and Japanese criminals fighting over some mythical drug, and killing a whole bunch of people, with plot machinations and double crosses and people wanting this or that.
The lead in this series of films is Ma Dong-seok. His cop character in these films is called Detective Ma Seok-do, which is everyone involved taking the piss. Ma Dong-seok also goes by Don Le, and is somehow one of the biggest stars of Korean action cinema. He was even in that darned Marvel Eternals movie that no-one liked.
The only thing that matters is that Detective Ma, a fat middle-aged guy who wears the same tracksuit throughout the entire film, punches people.
He punches them really hard. He punches them so hard that he can pretty much warp reality with the force of his mighty fists.
People being annoying? Punch them. People being crims? Punch them harder. Door not opening? Punch it. Safe locked? Punch it! Legal issues with a case? Punch something, and the achievement is unlocked.
Fighting one person? Punch him. Fighting ten people? Punch them.
You may think I am taking the piss, that I am joking, at your expense, that I am pulling your leg.
That I am exaggerating.
Oh no, gentle reader. No. That is not the case.
This is not a superhero flick, but it’s almost like the main character’s superpower is (surprise, surprise, you’ll never guess) punching people and punching things. No-one else punches like he does. No-one else has the perfect instinct to know exactly who to punch, how hard, and when in order to allow the plot to cascade along.
There is an entire array of other policemen around Ma, but their job mostly is to try and stop him from punching people he shouldn’t, and to shield him from his actions when he’s resorting to obvious Police Brutality in order to get his way.
Everyone who he punches deserves it. He never accidentally, let’s say, punches an old woman or a puppy. This is obvious copaganda, but, and this is a big butt and I cannot lie, it’s enjoyable. Ma saunters through the entire film with the splay-legged comfy gait of a large man who knows how large he is, and gives zero fucks about it.
Also, he never runs, he doesn’t kick, he doesn’t do somersaults, there’s no wire work, he doesn’t need weapons, he just punches people really hard. He doesn’t have to go after people or expend energy moving towards them in space or time – they eventually, because they are fools, come to him for a Grand Gangnam-style Punchening. I know that’s not a real word, but you just have to imagine that I created the perfect synthesis of some Korean and English words in order to craft the ideal portmanteau…
Is that…racist? I certainly hope not. I don’t think I’m appropriating anything, but truth be told a good hard cancelling could do wonders for my (non-existent, entirely theoretical) profile.
Every review I’ve read of this, whether excitable ones in English or poorly translated Korean ones point solely to the star and his charm as the only reason why this works, and I think that’s unfair to the team of people around him, working diligently as courtiers and handmaidens in order to effect his will, and help make this stuff funny. No one says “police brutality”, no one complains about excessive force, but everyone teeters on the edge of knowing nothing he does could possibly be legal even in this fantasy universe.
Imagine the court case. A prosecutor asks “And how did you come by this evidence?”
Ma responds on the stand “I punched him. I punched everyone. The evidence fell out of their pockets after that. And if you disrespect me again, I will be punching you, the judge, everyone, so hard that your families will feel it.”
Prosecutor nervously announces “No further questions, your Honour, case proven, everyone’s guilty!”
It doesn’t matter whether his opponents are Korean or Japanese, doesn’t matter if they’ve got swords or the rare gun. His fists are the great equaliser.
I so enjoyed this bonkers film, which is the 2020s Korean version of what Hollywood used to do in the 1980s, where, whenever Ma isn’t onscreen, everyone is always talking about him, that I immediately went back and watched the earlier ones in the series.
They’re okay, the second one being set in Vietnam, and involving sadistic Korean crims preying upon Korean tourists, and Ma Dong-seok’s easygoing charm and bullyboy energy predominate throughout, but it’s only in the third where plots and investigative work and information etc just fall by the wayside and the films really lean in to punching being the solution to every puzzle.
Is he charming? I guess. He alternates between joking about what a handsome guy he is in between other people pointing out what droopy, pouchy features he has, but there’s no impostor syndrome here, no endless self-doubt. Maybe that’s part of the charm (for those of us riddled with self-doubt), as he barrels his way through the flick looking like a sad, slightly pissed off bear.
It’s nice seeing a large guy who’s not all muscle being the brutal lead of one of these things, instead of a photoshopped whippet, but it’s not like Ma is some poster boy for unhealthy slobs and beefy lads who wear clothing that’s way too tight for them. He may be a large lad who clearly loves his carbs, but his arms are massive, and he really sells the idea that he is a phenomenal boxer whose blows bring unconsciousness to those who receive them, and inspire fear in those that hear them. There’s a terrifying solidity to these punches, and we should all be reluctant to commit crimes for the rest of our lives in case Detective Ma were to come after us.
Crime City Takedown Turnup Roundhouse No Exits Except through the Gift / Punch Shop 3.
You could certainly do worse.
8 times a few of those punches I felt in my ovaries out of 10
“Gotta punch all them bastards” – yes, you do - The Roundup: No Way Out