” When 300lb guys say things, 130lb guys listen wrote Audiard. This puts Ma Dong-Seok well in The Roundup. A Korean policeman who tends to knock when you’re not listening, finds himself at the heart of a bloody investigation in Vietnam when initially he was just supposed to ensure a simple extradition. This cop is Inspector Ma Seok-do, who we had already seen at work in The Outlaws six years ago. Success in the land of the morning calm, the film therefore generated a sequel, directed this time by the unknown Lee Sang-Yong (one of the producers of the Good, The Brute and The Cinglé) and which pulverized all the scores of its predecessor.
The Roundup embodies both all the qualities and limitations of current Korean entertainment cinema. The limits have already been pointed out several times in recent years. Korean cinema sometimes has a tendency to turn in circles on itself, reproducing in spades formulas that have proven themselves. One could almost speak of some form of Hollywood formatting of the system. Dark thrillers, action detectives and disaster films are popular, so capitalize on them. And the Korean industry produces galore, sometimes skimping on quality (but not always) to generate decals of memorable hits. But quantity emerges very regularly some good treats. As The Roundup exactly.
What a foot! The Roundup rises to the top of the basket thanks to its solidity at all levels. In the writing first of all, with a well-constructed and smoothly conducted plot, which holds perfectly in suspense over its well-researched 106 minutes. Then in the action with brutal fights that give the audience a hard fight, offering the spectator the spectacle that he had precisely come to seek. Finally, in humor. This is one of the recurring problems with Asian cinema, which likes to inject a lot of humor into its entertainment blockbusters. His outrageous side coupled with the cultural shift often makes him fall flat. Not in The Roundup, who embodies it in his star character, this massive cop who doesn’t do lace at the risk of rubbing shoulders with his hierarchy. Brilliant in the role, Ma Dong-Seok often provokes a smile (never forced) as soon as he enters the arena with his hulking build ready to beat up the bad guy. When his hand is armed to send a mandal, we can not help but hold back a burst of jubilant laughter as we know in advance that his destination will morfler. A bit like when our good old Gégé Depardieu armed a headbutt (see Freinds by Francis Veber).
The Roundup is classic, not to say basic. But from its simplicity, it draws a pleasing efficiency that converges towards fully accomplished fun. Basically, it doesn’t offer anything that we haven’t already seen with our Korean friends (sometimes we think of Oldboy, Memories of Murder, The Murderer and so many others). But what it does deliver, it does well, delivering a pseudo action crime comedy that totally fulfills its aims. As we have said a thousand times, many cinematographers, from Hollywood to France, would do well to take inspiration from the methodology made in Korea. The Roundup only cost a little over 7 million euros and we’re having a blast. The last Asterix and Obelix cost $65 and it’s watchable at best (for the most forgiving).
By Nicolas Rieux