London Korean Film Festival: The Outlaws (Crime City)

The Outlaws aka Crime City
The Outlaws (Crime City)
Directed by Kang Yun-sung
Starring Don Lee, Yoon Kye-sang and Cho Cha-yun
Screening at LKFF October 27th, 2017

by Richard Hamer

Still playing in Korean cinemas at the time of its London screening, The Outlaws is doing great box office. It’s not hard to see why: Fresh from blockbuster hit Train to Busan, heavyweight star Dong-seok Ma (Don Lee) plays a cop at the centre of a violent, breathlessly exciting operation to find and arrest an entire Chinese-Korean gang that have taken over the Garibong-dong neighbourhood of Seoul.

Based (I suspect very loosely) on the real-life 2007 event known as the “Heuksapa Incident”, detective Ma Suk-Do (Lee) and his understaffed team of hard-bitten cops struggle to maintain order in a district split between several competing gangs. Protection rackets, illegal gambling and prostitution are rife. Stabbings are an everyday occurrence. Into the mix comes the unstoppable, sadistic Jang Chen (Yoon Kye-sang), who all-but single-handedly sends the entire neighbourhood spiraling into all-out war. To bring order to the streets, Ma Suk-Do has no choice but to build up a case to arrest the gangsters. All of them.

The Outlaws is a well-crafted, assured action thriller. It brings little new to the table, but delivers on its genre promises with confidence and surprising humour. Dong-seok Ma is every inch the star, his performance combines a dominating physical presence with a light, entertaining touch. He brings warmth and momentum to a film that threatens to bog itself down in gross violence and torture; the camaraderie between him and his squad rescuing it from too much all-out bleakness.

But there’s still plenty of violence, and as an action movie The Outlaws is a wildly successful one: Choreography is brutal, relying less on martial-arts showboating for its thrills, and more on the audience’s passionate desire to see its horrific villains get the ever-living shit beaten out of them. Its final battle is a real punch-the-air, borderline therapeutic delivery of vigilante justice: A real guilty pleasure.

This isn’t a movie you come to looking for subtle social commentary. Its central message – that crime flourishes when good communities fail to stand together – is undercooked, taking a back seat to two hours of carefully-plotted mayhem. Assuming you can stomach its penchant for dismemberment and stabbings, The Outlaws is thrilling, crowd-pleasing fare.


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