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[Editor’s Pick] Ma Dong Seok vs Gangsters

Helmed by first-time writer-director Kang Yoon Sung, The Outlaws is based on a real-life gang war and police mop-up operation that occurred in Seoul’s de facto Chinatown district of Garibong in 2007. The real-world origin of the story adds to the grit and appeal of this no-nonsense crime action thriller.

In a role that is basically tailor-made for him, Ma Dong Seok plays tough-as-nails, straight-talking violent-crimes detective Ma Seok Do, who really does not appreciate the sudden nuisance of a turf war breaking out in his district. Cut from the old-school fabric of street-smart policing, Detective Ma maintains familiar relations with locals and mob bosses, and doesn’t hesitate to break rules or slap uncooperative goons around when the occasion calls for it.

On the other side of the ring, Yoon Kye Sang speaks little and glares a lot as an unflinchingly brutal gangster from China who has an axe and uses it liberally. Yoon isn’t quite at the level of Kim Yoon Seok in The Yellow Sea, but he delivers a suitably intense and inscrutable performance as the murderous Jang Chen who arrives in Korea and promptly usurps an established gang in the most direct way possible – killing the boss and everyone else in his way.

The Outlaws isn’t here to offer nuance or character development. The violent and unrepentant actions of Jang Chen and his cronies feed into the notorious stereotypes of Korean-Chinese gangsters, and Detective Ma is basically immovable brawn as the cop who gets things done. These clear-cut characters and conflicts set up The Outlaws for very efficient storytelling that is refreshingly free of big statements or mawkish sentiments. Neither the hero nor the antagonist gets saddled with unnecessary relationships, backstories or speeches. Laced with both brutal violence and glib humor, the tightly paced showdown between cops and gangsters plays out with an effective combination of police procedural, gangland drama and jolting action.

Thanks to its box office success to the tune of over 6.8 million admissions, a sequel for The Outlaws was recently announced. I, for one, look forward to more of Ma Dong Seok casually roughing up bad guys while drawling out put-downs.

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