Review: The Illusionist (2010)


Directed by: Lee Won-Tae | 109 minutes | action, crime | Actors: Ma Dong-seo, Kim Mu-Yeol, Sungkyu Kim

In “The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil,” Mafia boss Jang Dong-so (Dong-seok Ma) has a latent conflict with his friend and rival Hur Chang-Do over his slot machine empire in the Korean city of Cheonan. On a rainy evening, when he decides to drive the car alone, he is hit from behind by a white car. Out of nowhere, the other driver pulls a knife and attacks him. Dong-so manages to fend off the attacker, but is seriously injured. He turns out to be an accidental victim of a serial killer who has already made more victims. Driven and confident Detective Jung Tae-suk (Kim Mu-yeol) tries to catch the killer. With many fives and sixes, the gangster and the policeman come to an agreement: together they will take “the devil”. Everyone has their own ideas about this, as far as Dong-so is concerned, the murderer is not in prison for life. Still, Tae-suk agrees and that creates a cat-and-mouse game between the main characters in the cat-and-mouse game to catch the killer (Kim Sungkyu). Things get even more complicated when Dong-so gets involved in a gang war with Hur and Tae-suk is charged with the serious crime department, which wants to take over the murders.

“The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil” is a hard Korean thriller with lots of flashy action scenes and a good dose of humor, which captivates from start to finish. The film offers a lot of entertainment, has a smooth narrative style and regularly causes a laugh. The violence is brutal, but there are enough winks, plot twists and surprises to keep the whole light in tone.

Dong-seok Ma has a charismatic lead role as the heavily built Jang Dong-so. His memorable introductory scene immediately portrays his character and he continues to maintain the sympathy of the viewer despite his criminal empire and the dubious acts he sometimes performs. You understand his own moral code of honor and why he wants to get revenge on the murderer. Kim Mu-yeol has risen to him as the detective who is averse to conventional methods and loathes corruption within the police force. The two opposites who are forced to work together to achieve a common goal: it is a template that has been done in many hundreds of films before. Due to the intense and often humorous interaction between the protagonists, you hardly have the feeling that you have seen all this before. By the way, Kim Sunkyu plays an enigmatic serial killer and is a worthy opponent against the other two.

Set in August 2005, the story is said to be based on true events – all names and events have changed. The fact that the plot shows some holes here and there and some things are a bit illogical, shouldn’t spoil the fun. The main goal of the makers is entertainment: the momentum is well maintained and thus imperfections are masked. It is only the second film that director Won-Tae Lee has shot (he also wrote the screenplay) and here he shows his talent and flair as a filmmaker.

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