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The Roundup: No Way Out (2023) and the Outlaws Franchise
Ma Dong-seok first came to my attention in Bad Guys — still easily one of the my favourite K dramas (Sob. I really miss the good old days when OCN was churning out dramas with regularity) — as the brusque but loveable gangster Woong-cheol but I had no idea that he had an international following under the moniker Don Lee until I heard about this movie, the third in his Outlaws franchise. This happened to be showing in my local multiplex and I had to drag my other half out to see it. Which turned out to be a rather good thing. We’ve now seen it twice and it’s bucket loads of fun… particularly if you’re a fan of classic 80s 90s action flicks and don’t mind seeing blood spattered rather liberally here and there.
Ma Dong-seok’s character Ma Seok-do is the Dirty Harry One Punch Man of his team. He doesn’t carry a weapon and neither does he have to. The man plays with his fists and often knocks out his opponents with a single punch. Seok-do is a cop if you haven’t already guessed and in this installment, he’s working for Metro Investigations looking into a homicide related to a designer drug known as “Hiper”. Soon he finds himself tangling with not just local gangs and potentially the Chinese triads but the heavy weights of the yakuza as well. All of this suits Seok-do who likes to keep busy and see things through right to the end. Adding to the fun and games is the fact that he is adept at putting the fear of God into potential informants and suspects, forcing them to co-operate albeit reluctantly.
The show’s primary antagonist this time is Lee Joon-hyuk’s Jo Sung-cheol. Yes, you read that right. It is the first time I’ve seen him play an outright irredeemable villain that has an explosive temper and wreaks havoc everywhere he goes to make his point. Although I recoil from the performance, I am impressed by the transformation. Lee Joon-hyuk has never been one to be typecast which is why he remains a favourite despite the fact that he seldom plays romantic lead roles. What’s also somewhat amusing is that Lee Joon-hyuk is the third in a series of normally attractive actors playing destable antagonists in this franchise.
The show does nothing original but the audience knows what they’ve signed up for from the moment we are privy to the inner workings of organized crime and the violence that ensues from the first scene. Especially when $30 million USD in drugs are on offer. (Although whether they’re really that organized is debatable) Fortunately for the cops there is no honour among thieves. The backstabbing throws everything into disarray. Seok-do also has the propensity to bend a few rules to make sure he gets his man. This is where the series manages to inject some levity despite the incessant blood-letting. Moreover Ma Dong-seok’s deadpan delivery of disapproval in particular serves as a fun contrast to all the antics of his mild-mannered colleagues or the brutality of his opponents.
The first of the series simply titled The Outlaws had Ma Seok-do facing off with Yoon Kye-sang’s axe wielding Chinese loan shark debt collector. Number two, The Roundup saw Detective Ma head off to Vietnam to extradite a criminal that had turned himself in only to find out that there’s a lot more skullduggery going on among expat Koreans who have set up shop in that part of the world, taking advantage of lax law enforcement oversight. There he has a run in with Son Sook-koo. which takes them both back to their home country for a final showdown. What all these films have in common are the moral lows the miscreants are willing to sink to in order to reach their goal. Which is usually the old culprit — money.
The battle between the good and evil is played out in the seedy underbelly of South Korean society. It’s a thankless task but there’s one man who can get it done without falling prey to the sharp end of a weapon. The residents of the country can sleep easy knowing that Detective Ma Seok-do is out there combing the streets and making them a tad more livable.
The Roundup: No Way Out also stars Munetaka Aoki, Kim Min-jae, Jun Suk-ho, and Go Gyu-pil.