New 'Public Enemy' upgrades humor
By Yang Sung-jin
Published on The Korea Herald: June 5, 2008
In "Public Enemy Returns," the third installment of the police action series by director Kang Woo-suk, the most visible - and welcome - change comes from the central character, detective Gang Cheol-jung.
Gang, played by veteran actor Sul Kyoung-gu, still works as a quirky, almost uncontrollable detective who specializes in hunting down vicious villains. But this time around Gang is much more tenacious: even after he gets stabbed by an attacker and goes through a major surgery, he springs back to his feet and runs after what he sees as "a public enemy."
The enemy is Lee Won-sul (played by Jung Jae-young), chairman of Geo-seong Group. An up-and-coming entrepreneur, chairman Lee runs a host of seemingly legitimate businesses, but his real business remains deeply rooted in his lifelong career of gangster. All of his employees are members of a massive gangster group led by Lee, and their key business is to threaten, stab and kill for money.
Compared with the previous two installments, detective Gang looks bigger and more powerful, and even the evil character, Lee, comes with multiple psychological layers in a departure from the typically cardboard criminals. The movie also draws strength from a solid cast of supporting characters who do their part in adding dramatic effect as well as a whiff of realism.
The movie, however, is not exclusively devoted to action. Jokes are inserted in key moments, softening the overall tone of the film and offering a much-needed Korean sense of humor. The credit of this enhanced comic effect goes to the screenwriter Jang Jin, an established filmmaker himself who is known to be adept at creating tongue-in-cheek comic scenes, and there are plenty in "Public Enemy Returns."
In the beginning, Detective Gang is seriously considering a career change. For years he has tracked down really bad criminals, but he does not have enough money to secure a decent house for his daughter and mother. Gang drops in at a bank to get a loan, but the bank's answer is resolutely negative. After all, his credit rating, because of his dangerous and terribly busy job that does not come with corresponding monetary returns, is at rock bottom.
Gang files his resignation letter to his boss but nobody believes he's quitting. While he is trying to get out of his trap, something serous hits the town. Gang's team is confronted with two murder cases, whose traces seem to be linked with Geo-seong Group chairman Lee.
Lee is a very affectionate father who brings his son to a weekend farm house to teach him lessons about nature and humanity. He loves his wife dearly to the point of obeying her orders whenever possible. But behind this gentleman's facade lies a hidden identity: a merciless gangster boss who makes money, even by recruiting high school students and training them to stand in the front line of deception and violence.
Noticing that Lee's dirty hands are linked with the murder cases, Gang sets aside his career problem and begins his investigation, which turns out be more dangerous than he imagines.
Sul Kyoung-gu has increased the energy of Gang's character, showing off a more relaxed yet seasoned touch. Jung Jae-young, despite his first-ever role as an evil character, has successfully created an intriguing persona who is hopelessly corrupted to the heart and yet humorously vulnerable in a way that generates plenty of sympathy.
The original "Public Enemy" was a commercial hit in 2002, and the sequel "Another Public Enemy" produced mixed results in 2005. The third installment of the series, which draws keen interest as a major Korean film with box-office potential, is scheduled to be released on June 19.