Film Review Public Enemy
Director: Kang Woo-Suk (2002)
If I ever start a criminal gang I’m gonna do it in South Korea, I’ll be a success too. Know why? Because I’ll just keep it simple, no large scale gangs of 50+ guys, no honour bound revenge crap and definitely no psychopathic burying of my subordinates. I’ll just get on with making money and avoiding the cops, in fact I’ll have my own little code of practice just to make sure my gang doesn’t get into trouble;
- Rule 1: No smart suit/baseball bat or other generic melee weapon combinations to be worn in public places
- Rule 2: If anyone says they’re a cop then treat them as such regardless of how they may appear
- Rule 3: If I send you to give someone a message, absolutely positively under no circumstances are you to sexually abuse anyone in the house, destroy/damage property or commit any form of theft
- Rule 4: All guns stay holstered unless needed for business, no playing with them or waving them around to compare, especially in confined spaces such as cars
- GOLDEN RULE: If anyone approaches you wanting to join the gang, no matter how impressively they drink, or astoundingly they fight, PERFORM BACKGROUND CHECKS!
I’m not sure why more South Korean gangsters don’t take these measures, it’d save on the man power; they wouldn’t have to be hiring new thugs every time their men come across a crazy cop, which I assume would have a saving effect on the cost of suits! There is one other type of South Korean villain that also seems prominent in the films though, it’s not what I’d personally choose to be and I only mention it now because it’s a good segway into this film review, the psychopath, or as this film calls it, the public enemy.
That’s pretty much the gist of Public Enemy, Cho Kyu-hwan (played by Lee Song-jae) is one of those typical businessmen, successful, fancy car, model wife, adoring son and a Batemanesque tendency to brutally slaughter anyone who offends him. In opposition we have Officer Kang Chul-jung (played by Sol Kung-gu), a former boxer and all round hooligan with what can only be described as a very questionable moral code. On a shitty night, (literally) the two cross paths and from that point on its cat and mouse until the final conclusion.
If that all sounds pretty generic, it is and I’m sure anyone who’s seen this type of film before will know exactly what to expect. Add to that an unnecessarily long run time of 115 minutes and Public Enemy may not sound that appealing, but if you have the time I recommend it, it’s just such a godless damn fun film. It’s like the makers knew they weren’t going to reinvent the wheel or redefine the genre so instead they just decided to enjoy telling the story.
And there’s so much that’s enjoyable about this film. The leads are great, Businessman Cho is smarmy and self-confident, you’re just routing for him to get his come-uppance, while Officer Kang is a complete slacker version of Dirty Harry. He literally can’t be bothered to be a cop, and we only see him make his first arrest because it’ll get his sergeant off his back. The two are such believably opposing forces it actually makes sitting through the two+ hours feel pretty quick and enjoyable.
To me Officer Kang’s character is what makes this film, he’s obviously a lazy ass cop (at least in the beginning) but he’s also a badass; within the first five minutes has delivered a line like the following in a bathhouse to a guy who sings a song that pisses him off; ‘No money, I beat them. Don’t listen to me, I beat them. His face upsets me, I beat him. There’s about a stadium full of guys who got beaten by me’. Pure Awesome!
Surrounding these two is an array of eccentric characters, I mentioned Officer Kang’s sergeant, well he just may be the greatest angry police sergeant character in the history of angry police sergeant characters, not only does he yell at his men to get results, he also yells at internal affairs officers for daring to investigate his officers, mayors for daring to ring him, even members of the public for daring to be members of the public. He’s frequently striking anyone in sight with rolled up magazines and generally just being the angriest man on the planet. Likewise the criminals, their either cocky smartly dressed gang members (see charter above) who just go about creating mayhem, or their knife experts who will stop midway through interrogations to demonstrate the hand knife trick that Bishop did in Aliens. It’s like sitting through a circus, there’s so many varied acts that if you don’t like one, you’re pretty much guaranteed to like the next.
Reading that back Officer Kang’s world defiantly has more vibrancy to it, Businessman Cho’s world is full of secretaries and boardroom members, but that’s kinda the point. Sometimes in films like this I find myself rooting for the bad guy, maybe it’s bad story telling, boring characters, or the South Korean gangster side of me coming out, but I do. With Public Enemy that isn’t the case, Officer Kang is so anti-cool he’s sort of loveable, especially when contrasted with the nauseatingly successful businessman that is Cho and voila, 215 minutes of entertainment where you actually root for the ‘good guy’ and hate the ‘bad guy’.
Added to this, it’s a well-made film, the shots are interesting and well thought out, the editing’s consistent and well-paced, the plot moves along nicely, taking it’s time to build to a worthy crescendo. This is just a really decent film, no scratch that, this is a good, fun, goofy film, no scratch that, this is a hell of an entertaining, good, fun, goofy, film. Ok I could add more adjectives as I keep going but hopefully you get the picture. Give it a chance; it’s certainly a better watch than the abortion that is Terminator 3 Rise Of The Machines.
Written by Sam ‘look how tastefully I avoided dog eating references’ McKinstrie