You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Outlaws’

Bloody gang warfare in Seoul takes on a slapstick edge in Kang Yoon-Seong's engaging action seriocomedy.

Kang Yoon-Seong
Ma Dong-Seok, Yoon Kye-Sang, Cho Chae-Yun, Park Ji-Hwan, Jin Seon-Kyu, Choi Gwi-Hwa, Jo Jae-Yoon, Im Hyung-Joon. (Korean, Chinese dialogue)

2 hours 1 minute

While police brutality as slapstick may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it certainly does get laughs in “The Outlaws.” This hectic action-comedy, based, however loosely, on gang warfare in Seoul over the past decade, stars the estimable Ma Dong-Seok aka Don Lee (“Train to Busan”) as a police investigator who simply bulldozes through all opposition, be it legal or lethal.

More dependent on general high energy and a farcical edge than it is on outstanding action set pieces — though there’s plenty of well-tuned violence — “The Outlaws” is a very entertaining if not quite first-rank genre exercise that reps an auspicious bow for first-time feature director Kang Yoon-Seong. It performed superbly at home last year, and has opened or sold to numerous offshore territories since.

The tangled plot, drawn from a 2004 “gang mop-up operation” by Seoul police, has our badge-wearing protagonists dealing with a tsunami of rivalrous criminal activities. Korean, Chinese and Chinese-Korean gangs edgily co-exist in the down-market Garibong District until the arrival of three exceedingly cold-blooded emigres, led by long-haired Jang Chen (ex-K-Pop star Yoon Kye-Sang). They recognize no preexisting agreements or territories; starting out as brutal debt collectors, they simply terrorize their way into taking over whole operations from the established gangs.

Tasked with tracking down these Black Dragon perps and halting their escalating bloodshed is brick-built cop Ma Seok-Do (Lee), a bull who never met a china shop he couldn’t — and wouldn’t — reduce to rubble. Such methods occasionally irk his superiors, but they do tend to get the job done. Nonetheless, Jang Chen continues to elude arrest as his gang’s size and power grows, along with their penchant for committing acts of extreme violence in boldly public settings.

There’s nary a dull moment in the two-hour film, which favors grit over high style and manages to locate a certain mordant, messy humor in the nastiest criminal doings. (Our villain has a particular fondness for dismemberment.) There’s enough real rooting value here to avoid a sense that life and death are being trivialized for screen thrills. Still, the busy pic’s dangerous clutter has an almost Preston Sturges-like air of ensemble comedy on the brink of slapstick chaos, with Lee a combination of Charles Bronson and William Demarest — an unstoppable-force prone to blowing his top at any moment. While there’s genuine threat in scenes dominated by the Black Dragons, elsewhere (particularly in the Serious Crimes Unit office) Kang demonstrates a real talent for packing scenes with inspired throwaway comic lines and bits of business.

It’s all expertly handled, from casting to fight choreography to location choices and design contributions. So it makes perfect sense that when the principal good guys and bad guys get their final face-off, the melee takes place in a public toilet. That’s just the right way to end a caper that, to more or less equal degrees, has been bloody, dirty — and absurd.

Film Review: 'The Outlaws'

Reviewed at Fantasia Film Festival, Montreal, July 21, 2018. Running time: 121 MIN. (Original title: “Beomjoidosi.”)

Production: (South Korea) A Kiwi Media Group and Vantage E&M presentation of a Hong Film and B.A. Entertainment production. (International sales: M-Line Distribution, Seoul.) Producer: Yoo Yeong-Chae.

Crew: Director, writer: Yoon Seong-Kang. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Ju Sung-Lim. Editor: Kim Sun-Min. Music: Mowg.

With: Ma Dong-Seok, Yoon Kye-Sang, Cho Chae-Yun, Park Ji-Hwan, Jin Seon-Kyu, Choi Gwi-Hwa, Jo Jae-Yoon, Im Hyung-Joon. (Korean, Chinese dialogue)

More Film

  • Macon Blair27th Annual Gotham Independent Film

    Macon Blair to Direct and Write 'Toxic Avenger' Reboot for Legendary (EXCLUSIVE)

    Macon Blair has been tapped to write and direct Legendary’s reboot of the cult classic “The Toxic Avenger,” sources tell Variety. Legendary acquired the feature film rights in December and have quickly made the project a high priority at the studio. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment will serve as producers with Alex [...]

  • Danny Boyle Bond 25

    Danny Boyle Calls His Exit From 'Bond 25' a 'Great Shame'

    Director Danny Boyle has finally spoken out after leaving the upcoming 25th James Bond movie over creative differences. After splitting from the new 007 flick last August, Boyle told Empire in a story published on Thursday that the script he penned with his “Trainspotting” co-writer John Hodge “wasn’t finished, but it could have been really [...]

  • Film Review: 'Everybody's Everything'

    Film Review: 'Everybody's Everything'

    An elegiac documentary exploring the brief life of rapper Lil Peep, “Everybody’s Everything” certainly doesn’t lack for perspectives. Interviewing virtually everyone who knew the musician (born Gustav Ahr), directors Sebastian Jones and Ramez Silyan cover the waterfront, from Peep’s family to his girlfriends, his innumerable collaborators, his managers and his fans, trying to distill exactly [...]

  • A Brinks armored truck pulls into

    Layoffs Hit Fox After Disney Completes Deal

    Layoffs have hit Fox following the entertainment company’s sale to Disney. The staff cuts are hitting employees at the SVP, EVP, and president level. Senior staff is expected to be among the first to be impacted. However, the cuts will be deep, with the ax falling hardest of Fox’s film team. There could be as [...]

  • Emily Blunt in Talks for Inspirational

    Emily Blunt in Talks to Star in Annapurna Drama 'Not Fade Away'

    Emily Blunt is in negotiations to star in Annapurna’s inspirational drama “Not Fade Away” with David O. Russell and John Krasinski producing. The project is based on Rebecca Alexander’s 2015 memoir “Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found.” Alexander was born with a rare genetic mutation called Usher syndrome type III and [...]

  • Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marco Graf

    Alfonso Cuaron's 'Roma' Nabs Nine Nominations for 6th Premios Platino

    As was widely anticipated, Alfonso Cuaron’s triple Oscar-winning “Roma” dominated the 6th Premios Platino nominations, unveiled Thursday at Hollywood’s legendary Roosevelt Hotel, the site of the very first Oscars. It snagged a total of nine nominations, including best film, director, art direction, cinematography, and acting for its two Oscar-nominated actresses, Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de [...]

  • Stephen Bruno

    Stephen Bruno Exits Netflix for Top Marketing Job at MGM

    Netflix global marketing chief Stephen Bruno has exited his post for MGM, where he has been named chief marketing officer. His departure follows that of Netflix CMO Kelly Bennett and marks a major shake-up for the streaming giant. Bruno had been with the streamer since 2014, and is known as an innovator. He joins MGM [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content