Second time to the well draws far less dramatic water in “Another Public Enemy,” follow-up to the gripping 1992 psychodrama between a maverick cop and an ultra-smooth serial killer. With the same thesp, Seol Gyeong-gu (“Peppermint Candy”), reprising his role as the hangdog detective, this time his enemy is a ruthless, super-rich businessman — an inherently less-suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse that lacks the psychological depth — as well as the dark underbelly — of the first pic. Where the first film more than justified its two-hour-plus running time, this one seems unnecessarily stretched, signaling tough sledding offshore.
Much-awaited film, again directed by local hitmeister Kang Woo-suk (“Silmido”), performed well on local release in late January, with a brawny 4 million admissions in its first six weeks (1 million up on the original). Central idea plays much more resonantly in a country still ruled by large corporations and business/political privilege.
Opening with flashbacks to the high-school days of cop Kang Cheol-jung (Seol), the pic sets up an early link between him and fellow student Han Sang-woo (Jeong Jun-ho). Kang was a down-and-dirty brawler, whereas Han was a slicker act; both realized that power was the key. “He and I were doing the same thing, but from different angles,” notes Kang in voiceover, setting up a duality that should power the drama, but only gets intermittent treatment thereafter.
Post-main title, Kang is now a public prosecutor in the Seoul DA’s office, waging a zero-tolerance war against gang crime. Han, following the death of his father and hospitalization of his elder brother after a car accident, has taken over as head of the Myeong-seon Foundation, a multimillion-dollar corporation that’s into charitable sponsorship. When one of the foundation’s directors asks Kang’s immediate superior, Jo (Im Seung-dae), to reopen the files on Han’s father and brother, Kang takes it upon himself to launch a criminal investigation into the two “accidents.”
First face-off between the two men, bristling with polite competitiveness, recalls a similar early scene in the first pic. But as Kang doggedly pursues his target, trying to prove Han engineered his family’s accidents and has used the foundation to illegally export 500 billion won ($500 million) of funds, the film increasingly goes around in elaborate circles rather than delving more deeply into the two main characters’ psyches.
In their multiple face-offs, both Seol and Jeong play it as tensely as the script allows, and the plot does manage to spring a couple of genuine surprises. However, there’s a lack of cumulative tension to sustain the long running time, and helmer Kang too often plays to the local gallery with comedic sequences (including a running joke about three petty crims always being arraigned in his office) that recall his ’90s hit series, “Two Cops.”
In a symptom of the script’s lack of focus, equal time is devoted to the bureaucratic obstacles and string-pulling Kang faces at work. After a fashion, this movingly gels in the violent, cathartic finale — as Kang’s by-the-book friend, Jo, comes through for him — but it contributes to the stop-start feel of the whole movie.
Tech package is fine, though color processing on print caught was a notch down on the original, and Kim Seong-bok’s lensing has no special atmosphere. Early flashback scenes were helmed by Kim Sang-jin (“Attack the Gas Station!”, “Jail Breakers”), who began as an a.d. to Kang Woo-suk. Chang Yoon-hyun, of “Tell Me Something” fame, directed the chase scenes, including an impressive sequence, climaxing in a tunnel.