17th Jul2023

‘The Roundup: No Way Out’ Review

by Jim Morazzini

Stars: Ma Dong-seok aka Don Lee, Lee Jun-hyuk, Munetaka Aoki, Se-ho Ahn, Noo-Ri Bae, Kim Do-Geon, Ko Gun-Han, Go Gyu-pil, Shin Hyeon-Yong | Written by Kim Min-sung | Directed by Sang-yong Lee

The third film in the Crime City franchise, The Roundup: No Way Out certainly has its work cut out for it following 2017’s The Outlaws and last year’s The Roundup. Of course Ma Dong-seok (Train to Busan, Ashfall) or Don Lee, depending on where you’re watching, is back as “Beast Cop” Detective Ma Seok-do. Also returning is Sang-yong Lee who directed both of the previous films, with Kim Min-sung making his debut as a screenwriter.

Seven years after the events of the previous film our hero is working with a new unit and they have a problem on their hands. A drug called Hyper has hit the streets of Seoul, it’s described as more potent than cocaine or amphetamines and more toxic than heroin. With a combination like that, it’s no surprise the bodies are beginning to pile up. Also causing bodies to pile up is the battle for control of the market for it which is pitting local gangsters, including some crooked cops against the Japanese who seek to extend The Yakuza’s dominance into Korea.

From the start The Roundup: No Way Out has a habit of shifting tones that kept me off balance. It opens with a man being beaten with a crowbar, his barely alive body being wrapped in plastic and dumped in the ocean. That’s immediately followed by a comical brawl between Ma Seok-do and four guys involved in what appears to be a road rage incident.

Later, a raid on a club is similarly played for laughs and closely followed by the torture of a disloyal gang member. And that is followed by a joke about our hero hitting someone so hard they shit themselves. It’s almost as if two different films, one a police comedy, and one a violent crime story were spliced together.

But that’s not the biggest problem The Roundup: No Way Out faces. More problematic is the film’s relative lack of action set pieces. Most of the fights last for as many punches as Ma Seok-do has opponents which rapidly becomes tedious. That’s part of a tendency the film has to overplay his strength as he shrugs off being struck by an SUV or being beaten in the head with baseball bats and still beating everyone down.

That can work in John Wick and its sequels where his invulnerability fits into the endless barrage of outrageous fight scenes, here not so much. But for The Roundup: No Way Out Kim Min-sung has written a film that’s more of a police procedural than the previous two instalments and has considerably less in the way of action setpieces of the first two films. And while there’s nothing wrong with police procedurals, Detective Ma Seok-do is not a character suited to them.

This is not to say that The Roundup: No Way Out is a terrible film, it’s not. It has its moments and the extended fight scenes we do get are well staged. It’s more of a disappointment given what’s come before it and the potential of the plot pitting Beast Cop against a corrupt cop in the form of Joo Seong-Cheol (Lee Jun-hyuk; I Saw the Devil, No Mercy) as well as the Yakuza.

The film ends with a tease for the fourth film, Punishment, due out next year – with plans to expand the Crime City series to at least eight films. I’m still game for them, provided the quality returns to the levels we expect from the franchise.

*** 3/5

The Roundup: No Way Out premiered in South Korean theatres on May 31st and in select US theatres on June 2nd via Capelight Pictures. It will also play on July 21st as part of this year’s Fantasia Film Festival.

Review originally posted on Voices From the Balcony

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