Another Public Enemy
Competent Korean cop drama sequel-of-sorts.
As if trying to keep up with the Korean sense of humour and social conventions wasn't enough, director Kang Woo-suk apparently likes to mince with minds of his own accord too. Another Public Enemy, follow-up (but not a sequel) to 2002's Public Enemy, shares the same lead actor (Sol Kyung-gu) playing a character with the same name as in his earlier role, but who is not the same Detective Kang as in that movie. Confused? No need really. Another Public Enemy is it's own beast, and as well as dancing to the tune of an entirely new song it shares little of the same style or ambience as it's predecessor. This time Kyung-gu's Kang Chul-joong is a prosecutor for the Seoul District Attorney's Office, and rather than the bumbling-yet-effective character of the last movie he this time portrays a man who is humble, generally reserved and efficient at his job.
A brief opening flashback shows a young Kang at school, slowly nurturing a hatred for the privileged few rich kids whose parents see to it that their youngsters escape the harsh punishment frequently doled out to the rest of the pupils. Unable to accept that simply having money means a few rich citizens should be treated differently to the many, Kang has grown up to transpose this hatred onto his job of hunting criminals seemingly operating above the law. To this end his enquiries bring to his attention the dealings of an old classmate, Han Sang-woo (Jung Joon-ho). Heir to the Myung-sun Foundation, Han's father has died and his brother is in a coma after a car crash, but it isn't until one of the Foundation's directors suggests all this might not be accidental that the police begin to show an interest in the apparent misappropriation of certain company funds.
It isn't long before Kang figures that Han is channeling money from a children's golf initiative with the intention of moving to the US, and piece by piece he begins to collect the evidence required to build his case. However, with time running out Kang is frustrated to say the least that Han's involvement with the higher echelons of the Seoul police are effectively shielding him from active investigation, jeopardising his investigation and ultimately both his own life and that of his men. So the stage is set for another unorthodox approach to police work, albeit this time focusing on the bureaucracy of business prosecution rather than the brute force dealings of the Seoul underworld.
Indeed it's this shift in focus which is responsible for Another Public Enemy's altogether more sedate pace. Whereas the previous movie's protagonist divided his investigation fairly evenly between sitting at a desk and kicking the shit out of his suspects, here Kang finds himself unraveling far more red tape without the aid of casual violence, the net result of which means this feels far more like an extended episode of TV's Prime Suspect than a candidate for Asia Extreme status. This is not to say that APE as I shall now refer to it is not enjoyable, simply that it struggles to fill it's running time without the kinetic energy of it's forebear. At almost two and a half hours Kang Woo-suk finds he has his hands full with, well, not very much really and several areas of the film feel a little too languishing for this reviewer's liking. Still, it's to the credit of it's two leads that APE still manages to hold an audience's attention for such a considerable time span, with both Kyung-gu and Joon-ho pulling off their roles with some considerable skill.
Viewers of the original Public Enemy will find it hard to recognise Sol Kyung-gu as a much more mildly-mannered law man. Wether or not it's just my imagination I can't say, but the actor looks and feels older than the two-and-a-bit years between the two movies would otherwise suggest, and this Kang is most definitely a different beast. A picture of quiet, pent-up anger, Kang is an utterly believable character of virtue operating in a field that both resists him yet compels him to drive on. His compassion for his men and slowly crumbling dedication to procedure as he gradually teeters on the edge of his tether make for compelling viewing , stretched or otherwise, and as in the first movie Kyung-gu is without doubt the first and foremost reason for watching. This is not to say that Jung Joon-ho doesn't keep up his end of the bargain; far from it. While I find reports of the movie's DOP going on record to say his performance actually made the camera shake a little hard to swallow he is nonetheless incredibly convincing as a monster so cold and heartless that he'd sooner see his family dead than give up his dream of escaping Korea a rich man.
It's just unfortunate that APE's plodding pace doesn't share the intensity of it's two leads. It's appreciable that Kang Woo-suk is offering his leads enough slack to play out their characters convincingly, but with so little focus on peripheral characters and far less levity than it's predecessor there's just too much heavy slack that gradually threatens to drown the whole movie. As hard as it's two main characters work to shoulder the burden, Another Public Enemy ends up feeling more like a competently written, consummately acted TV special than a supposedly cutting-edge example of modern Asian filmmaking. By no means a failure there is merely disappointment that, given the talent involved, a tighter leash wasn't kept on proceedings. As a result of this and nothing more I'm afraid we've dropped a mark.
I award this movie 3 out of 5 Units We Use.
Jung Joon-ho (Han Sang-woo)
Shin-il Kang (Kim Shin-il)