It’s not unheard of, but sequels that surpass their already solid predecessors in every way are still somewhat few and far between. That short list has a new entry now, though, thanks to the wildly entertaining and highly satisfying action/comedy from South Korea, The Roundup. A follow-up to 2017’s The Outlaws — already a blast blending hard-hitting action with goofy hijinks — The Roundup ups the ante by delivering one of 2022’s best mashups of punches, laughs, beatdowns, and giggles.
It’s been a few years since the big man called Ma Seok-do (Ma Dong-seok aka Don Lee) led his police squad in a bloody, bruise-inducing assault against crooks, gangsters, and wrongdoers, and he’s still out there busting heads. After ending a hostage situation like a bull in a china shop — he’s the bull, the unlucky perp is the breakable crockery — Seok-do is “rewarded” with an easy extradition gig picking up a bad guy in Vietnam. He heads overseas only to discover that this assignment is anything but easy. The crook in question has a far worse thug in pursuit, and as they head back to South Korea the team is tasked with catching a villain leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.
The Roundup sees director/co-writer Lee Sang-yong take over for The Outlaws‘ Kang Yoon-seong without missing a beat. It’s arguably better than that already solid original as it ups the action, laughs, and personality while also delivering a grimly frightening villain in the terrifying, machete-wielding Kang (Sukko Son). The man is a Korean ex-pat who’s been preying on other Koreans via kidnappings, extortion, and murder, and makes for a menacing antagonist for anyone to face. Well, almost anyone.
The film is an ensemble, but there’s no denying that The Roundup is also a showcase for the magical human being that is Ma Dong-seok. Ma is always a delight capable of carrying his large frame with an unlikely mix of raw power and unexpected softness, and that combination carries over into his characters with equal effect. Seok-do is a tough, no-nonsense detective who favors the direct approach when dealing with bad guys — that being a one-two punch with meaty fists made for pummeling — but he’s still something of a softie at times. You believe it when he reveals his gentler side just as you buy the painful impact of his punches that send their recipients sprawling across the room. That is, when he isn’t busy being the frustrated straight man at the center of an unruly team of cops.
That team (including Heo Dong-won, Ha Jun, and Choi Gwi-ha) sets up most of the film’s many laughs allowing the stone-faced Seok-do the opportunity to come in swinging whether it be physically or verbally. It’s not a joke-filled movie, but rather it’s a comedy built on characters and their reactions to both each other and the situations they find themselves in. Misunderstandings and attempts to mislead don’t sit well with Seok-do, and Ma’s expressions nail frustrations that range from the whimsical to the infuriating. He puts up with the failings and foibles of his team, but when bad guys cross him (or others) he goes straight to the fists.
The Roundup delivers an action showcase with his fights taking center stage, and they’re as entertaining as they are cathartic. He approaches each threat with confidence and determination, and resistance only fuels his fire. It’s always fun seeing the hero beat down the baddie, but it’s rarely as satisfying as seeing Ma do it with just a handful of well-placed punches. He mixes things up with kicks and throwdowns too, but those punches are where it’s at. The film keeps things moving with chases both on foot and by car, fast-moving blade action, and more, and it’s all choreographed for maximum entertainment.
Lee made his feature debut as director with 2009’s 4th Period Mystery, a fun little thriller with high-schoolers hunting for a killer, but his long overdue sophomore effort shows him capable of bigger, better blockbuster material. (And The Roundup is already a certified blockbuster in both South Korea and abroad.) The recent spate of Hollywood action/comedies could learn a thing or seven from Lee’s accomplishment here its balance of stellar action and legitimately funny comedy is maintained throughout. There’s a practical appeal to the fights and chases that fills the screen with adrenaline and excitement, both in fun action beats and more serious ones, but the script (co-written by Lee, Kim Min-seong, Lee Young-jong, and Ma himself) never neglects the characters and laughs.
The Roundup satisfies the way too few action/comedies do these days. It moves fast while still spending time with Seok-do, his motley bunch of cops, and the wickedly cruel Kang, and at just over an hour forty it never overstays its welcome. Of course, that said, no one would complain about spending more time with Ma Dong-seok, so here’s hoping this particular franchise continues for years to come.
Related Topics: Fantasia Film Festival