Our boy QT loves Asian cinema, his film are influenced by samurai and martial arts themed films. However, the South Korean film “PUBLIC ENEMY” seemed to have turned the tables on the acclaimed director; this film has the coolness and grittiness of a Tarantino film. I’ve read once that “South Korea makes better Hollywood films than Hollywood itself”. This film is another testament to that claim, (aside from the fantastic gangster film; “A Bittersweet Life“) this film reminds us of the things that made us love to watch movies in the first place. Director Kang Wu-Seok’s outing may have some similarities to “Nowhere to Hide”, but it is a far cry from the usual gangster films that comes out of South Korea ever.
Ruthless, unkempt cop named Chul-Joong Kang is not your typical everyday detective. Chul-Joong’s activities have a lot of illegal stuff that anyone would wonder whether he is a cop or a gangster. After his partner’s suicide pending an Internal affairs investigation, Chul-Joong decides to try to become a good cop for a change. Being a public servant is somewhat new to him, and his superior often mock him about his lack of arrests.
One rainy night, Chul-Joong runs into a ruthless killer in a raincoat in a small alley and the two form an odd connection. A week later, dead bodies of an elderly couple are found with multiple stab wounds. Chul-Joong meets the couple’s son, Cho Gyu-Hwan, he has the intuition that Cho is the killer but he has no evidence. Cho is actually the cold emotionless killer that he ran across with in the rain. The inevitable showdown between a dirty cop and a psycho-killer unfolds in a very personal manner.
“Public Enemy” easily sidesteps the usual cop vs. gangster that seemed to have become the thread in Korean crime drama lately. The film is an intelligent, gritty, humorous, well-structured film of the unlikeable dirty cop against a handsome homicidal maniac bent on murder. The film is not overly exaggerated and quite intense to follow. There is a lot of violence and blood that “gorehounds” will definitely be attracted to the film, and what’s more fascinating is the violence is well-filmed and creatively shot that the sequences have the effect on a psychological level. Folks who enjoy realistic violence will definitely embrace “Public Enemy”.
The film also boasts of an excellent script that may even make QT a little jealous. The dialogue is cool, clever and smart, there is a lot of comedic moments in the proceedings that has the same effective dark, sly humor that films like “Pulp Fiction” have made quite popular. There isn’t much that goes on after the 10 minute mark, the director lets the audience form an attachment to its two main characters by taking its time. The two leads become well-developed that the viewer will definitely be amused and repulsed at the same by the escapades of our anti-hero; Chul-Joong (played by Seol Gyeong-Gu), while his antagonist, the psychopathic rich businessman (played by Lee Seong Jae) is suave, handsome with a bad temper will surely wow its female audience. Quite ironic that the villain is the handsome antagonist who emulates a likeable charisma while the “hero” is actually the character meant to be quite unlikeable. The two are opposite extremes in every way, but for some odd reason, they are exactly alike. While “Nowhere to Hide” is a film that depended on nice visuals and cinematography, “Public Enemy” is superior in every way because of film is more character-driven and plot-oriented. Some people may argue that the film may need some editing, it is long at 135 minutes but NEVER for a moment did it feel boring.
Lee Seong Jae (Kick the Moon) makes an excellent performance as the killer. The man exudes that creepy and unsettling charisma that gives his character a lot of depth. His facial features are indeed disturbing when he performs the murderous acts of violence, that even his handsome features become overshadowed by his frightening aura. Seol Gyeong-Gu is the main hero of the film; at first glance, you will immediately see that there is just something not right with his character. His violent actions aren’t always justified, but from then on, Chul-Joong will likely grow on you. His persistence and fortitude in pursuing his “gut feeling” is to be admired that even though Chul-Joong is edgy and needs a lot of lessons about morality and good manners, you can’t help but tend to be attached to him by the film’s final act. The chemistry between the two works well that film lives around their interactions.
PUBLIC ENEMY is a worthwhile film that is a prime example as to why Korea has become a force to be reckoned with in great film-making. Dark, intense but never loses its comedic momentum, the film is a successful “play on genres” that those love this type of a blending of “noirish” coolness and sly humor will be satisfied. Treat yourself to “Public Enemy” and you won’t be sorry.