'The Roundup' review: Korean comedy crime saga lives up to the hype

Following a tried-and-tested action-comedy formula, South Korea's biggest film of the year translates well to international audiences

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It is already a smash-hit in its home country of South Korea.

Now, The Roundup, the action crime comedy and sequel to 2017’s The Outlaws, has made just under $100 million at the box office in the country since it was released in May.

That makes it the highest-grossing South Korean film of the year by far, with Top Gun: Maverick a distant second with $52m.

The Roundup’s financial success over the past few months is even more impressive when you consider that, up until its release, cinemas in the country were still struggling to attract viewers in the wake of the pandemic.

The film follows a pair of detectives as they chase a violent kidnapping gang across South Korea and Vietnam. Photo: Hong Films

Set four years after the events of The Outlaws, The Roundup once again revolves around Don Lee’s brutal but effective police detective Ma Seok-do.

This time around, Ma and police captain Jeon Il-man (Choi Gwi-hwa) travel to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, to extradite a Korean criminal.

Once they begin to interrogate him, though, Ma and Jeon become wary of how co-operative he seems to be. It doesn’t take long for the pair to discover that he is linked to the terrifying killer Kang Hae-sang, who has been kidnapping and murdering rich Koreans visiting Vietnam.

The Roundup

Director: Lee Sang-yong
Stars: Ma Dong-seok, Sukku Son, Choi Gwi-hwa
Rating: 4/5

Ma and Jeon are then thrust into a cat-and-mouse chase with Kang and his gang. They travel back to South Korea, with Ma repeatedly employing reckless and borderline illegal tactics in order to keep track of Kang.

It’s easy to see why The Roundup has proven to be so popular with movie fans not only in South Korea, but across the world — it currently has a score of 95 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes.

'The Roundup' has earned almost $100 million in South Korea alone this year, nearly double what the next-highest earner, 'Top Gun: Maverick' has brought in

Sure, it’s far from the most original action crime comedy ever made, and at times its convoluted plot nearly threatens to waylay the entire film.

But it also clearly has no interest in breaking new ground in the sub-genre. Instead, it repeatedly tips its hat to Lethal Weapon, Rush Hour and even Dirty Harry, while its intense and extreme action sequences have plenty in common with The Raid and John Wick franchises.

The key ingredient to The Roundup’s success is the mesmerising performance of Lee.

It’s easy to forget that Lee only really became a bona fide leading man in South Korean cinema after his supporting role in the 2016 intentional box office smash, Train to Busan.

Since then, Lee has either been the lead or played a prominent role in films such as the Along With The Gods series, Ashfall, The Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos, The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil, as well as The Outlaws, each of which have helped him earn the label of South Korea’s most bankable actor.

Rather than cowering under the weight of such a hefty tag, Lee marauds across the screen in The Roundup with the confidence and presence of an actor who loves the fact millions of people are watching him. Such a persona is perfect for the character of Ma. Not only does he instantly command everyone’s attention on entering a room, he also causes enough mayhem to justify the curiosity.

Don Lee demonstrates characteristic charisma and swagger, marauding across the screen with levity

While The Roundup has garnered plenty of positive reactions, not everyone has been happy with the film. Shortly after its release, the Korea Association for Mental Disorders and the Research Institute of the Differently Abled Person's Right held a press conference to criticise an early scene where a man escapes from a mental asylum and holds two people hostage with a knife.

At the same time, The Roundup was banned entirely in Vietnam, which declared that it was too violent for its audiences. This seems a tad excessive. While there’s no denying that the film has some pretty vicious fight sequences, there’s nothing in it that’s any more barbaric or gory than most other R-rated action or horror films.

Instead, the Vietnamese film department probably has an issue with The Roundup’s depiction of Ho Chi Minh City as a dangerous place to visit, where Korean criminals are constantly trying to rob, kidnap and even murder tourists.

Hopefully, they’ll be more impressed with The Roundup: No Way Out. The sequel is already in production, with Lee returning as Ma Seok-do, and Lee Sang-yong taking on the reins as director again, too. Filming should be done by November, and the aim is for it to hit cinemas next year.

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Updated: August 25, 2022, 6:29 AM
The Roundup

Director: Lee Sang-yong
Stars: Ma Dong-seok, Sukku Son, Choi Gwi-hwa
Rating: 4/5