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[Herald Review] ‘The Roundup’ returns, but is more predictable, even sloppy

If there's one reason to watch “The Roundup: Punishment,” it's the comeback of scene-stealer Jang Yi-soo

By Kim Da-sol

Published : April 16, 2024 - 14:59

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“The Roundup: Punishment” (ABO Entertainment) “The Roundup: Punishment” (ABO Entertainment)

It’s not an exaggeration to say that “The Roundup: Punishment,” the fourth installment of South Korea’s most successful crime flick franchise, is guaranteed to be a box office hit.

Don Lee, also known as Ma Dong-seok here, is confident about the upcoming movie, even telling reporters that this particular installment garnered the highest ratings at a blind screening among industry insiders.

His long-time industry partner and martial arts director Heo Myung-haeng directed the movie with Don Lee’s support. The two have demonstrated their partnership in January’s Netflix original action flick “Badland Hunters,” which was both a critical and popular flop. “The Roundup: Punishment” may walk the same path despite the high expectations of moviegoers and the franchise’s glorious feat of selling more than 30 million tickets so far.

The movie follows detective Ma Seok-do, who takes charge of an incident involving a drug-trafficking app. As he discovers the connection between the app’s developer and an illegal casino cartel, he learns that former special forces agent Baek Chang-gi (Kim Moo-yul) and genius IT CEO Jang Dong-chul (Lee Dong-hwi) are behind it.

Unlike the franchise's previous iterations, which highlighted Ma’s ruthless punches and taking down villains no matter what, this installment has given him a more humane aspect. Ma is deeply motivated by the story of a dead victim and his mother who also took her own life. A handwritten note left by the victim’s mother makes him focus on chasing after criminals, while everybody else discourages him from doing so.

The question must be asked though whether the director had to include that particular narrative and motivation in order for detective Ma to keep going. For those in the audience who came to see a thrilling, entertaining film -- rather than a Kleenex moment over melodramatic background music -- this aspect is not only puzzling, but disappointing as well.

“The Roundup: Punishment” (ABO Entertainment) “The Roundup: Punishment” (ABO Entertainment)

While the fourth installment once again features two new villains, as in the third one, the weak presence of the two new villains is also a letdown.

The audience was captivated by the first installment’s Jang Chen (Yoon Kye-sang), an ethnic Korean gangster from Harbin who collects debts, and the second installment’s psychopathic serial killer, Kang Hae-sang (Son Suk-ku). It was not just because the characters themselves were very powerful, but because the actors who played them had cast off their stereotypical images.

In the fourth installment, however, the two new villains, Baek Chang-gi and Jang Dong-chul, don’t seem formidable or even fresh. It could be because Kim previously starred as dark gang boss Pil-do in last year’s action noir “The Devil’s Deal.”

It could be because Kim previously starred as dark gang boss Pil-do in last year’s action noir “The Devil’s Deal.” In “The Roundup: Punishment,” the director perhaps intended to portray him as a man of few words, a life-threatening villain who simply acts – or kills – rather than negotiating with others.

In “The Roundup: Punishment,” the director perhaps intended to portray him as a man of few words, a life-threatening villain who simply acts – or kills – rather than negotiating with others. Despite Kim Moo-yeol’s deja vu-like villain acting, his pleasantly clear poise during an action scene using a short sword had the audience speechless.

Lee’s distinctive acting as a cheeky, comic guy offers some key jokes throughout the movie. But it’s something that we’ve already seen from him in his previous works and nothing more than that.

“The Roundup: Punishment” (ABO Entertainment) “The Roundup: Punishment” (ABO Entertainment)

With no strong competitor for “The Roundup: Punishment” at the local box office in April, it’s widely predicted that the movie will easily attract 10 million ticket sales.

If there is one reason to watch the film no matter what, it has to be because of the comeback of scene-stealer Jang Yi-soo, a former gang leader who speaks the Korean dialect spoken by ethnic Koreans in China in a comical tone.

Wearing luxury brand items from head to toe and driving a bright yellow Porsche, Jang Yi-soo is the only relief to be found in the movie. Actor Park Ji-hwan, who plays Yi-soo, also sang one of the soundtrack songs that plays as the credit rolls, so it’s worth waiting for it.

"The Roundup: Punishment” opens in local theaters on April 24.