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Another Public Enemy
cast: Kyung-gu Sol, Jun-ho Jeong, Shin-il Kang, Geun-hyeong Park, and Hie-bong Byeon

director: Woo-suk Kang

148 minutes (18) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary
As with other national cinemas emerging, largely via the support of DVD, into the global marketplace, the Korean film industry is now fielding a range of highly commercial thrillers that are eagerly reminiscent of Hollywood's acknowledged classics and popular hits, alongside their more formal strands of socio-political drama perhaps intended to be only easily accessible to Korean audiences. With a pithy cover-blurb commendation of "Dirty Harry with a law degree" (attributed to Time Out), Another Public Enemy (aka: Gonggongui jeon 2), a sequel to director Woo-suk Kang's own Public Enemy (2002), aims to bridge the gap as best it can, offering incisive commentary on Korean social mores and appealingly exciting confrontations that explode into slapstick violence, but its main concern is clearly just to ensure that all non-Korean viewers (hmm, what's the Korean for 'gwailo'?) and fans of American movies will find plenty to entertain them here.

Without the narrative complexity or philosophical allusions of Shiri, this film is nonetheless a constantly surprising and captivating study of OTT characters and mutedly comical situations. Surly but dedicated prosecutor Kang (Kyung-gu Sol) is challenged on moral and legal fronts by Han (Jun-ho Jeong), an arch-criminal and Kang's former school pal. Their personal rivalry threatens to consume them, utterly eclipsing legal procedures and the wisdom of commonsense, as each, in turn, strives to outwit the other. Gangster muscle tussles with legal brainpower before heavyweight authority of the gun-toting variety tackles the mastermind's wicked plot. Although the storyline is rich with numerous levels of intrigue and suspense, viewers will have few doubts that good will thwart evil, despite the lack of an ultimate triumph for either side.

Troubled hero Kang struggles against official apathy and disbelief from his police colleagues when he reports apparently well-founded suspicions about smooth-talking psycho Han's white-collar crimes of bribery and embezzlement and, soon enough, Kang has little recourse but to take direct action against his foe, thereby risking career, livelihood and eventually his life. For his part, diabolical hypocrite Han is hardly a master of subtlety and his temperament borders on Bond-villainy with violent outbursts at every real or imagined slight. Whereas the dogged Kang is less akin to Clint Eastwood's fascistic Harry Callaghan, and more like a Korean counterpart to Takeshi 'Beat' Kitano's rogue Azuma in Violent Cop (1989), albeit with a streak of broad humour that's casually evocative of the Lethal Weapon film series, Han's more absurdly volatile nature stimulates contrasting yet complementary shifts of tone in the provocative narrative. Terminally greedy and smarmy Han needles Kang for meekness and obedience to legality, yet balks at Kang's mightily forthright responses when the antihero prosecutor's kid gloves are finally removed.

What fascinates most about Another Public Enemy is how the obvious hero is keenly portrayed as a basically flawed and yet essentially sympathetic character, in many ways a renowned Hollywood stereotype given a refreshing new vibrancy with a foreign face seen in wholly unfamiliar settings, which benefit enormously from the film's tremendously accomplished production values. There's great fun to be found here, watching how the earnest lawyer and the wily crook act so differently around each other. And because, perversely, the sheer intensity of their mutual distaste goes seemingly unnoticed by others, especially at first, we anticipate the inevitable fiery showdown all the more.

The DVD is presented in anamorphic format with Korean sound in Dolby digital options (surround 5.1 or DTS, and 2.0) and English subtitles, extras: commentary track with the director and main cast, a making-of featurette, a look behind-the-scenes at the stunt work, and the original trailer.
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