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Where EAST meets the Northwest

REBEL COP, WEIGHTY PLOT. South Korean director Woo-Suk Kangís Another Public Enemy is a semi-sequel to his 2002 Public Enemy. (Photos courtesy of Tartan Asia Extreme)

From The Asian Reporter, V16, #51 (December 19, 2006), page 20.

A sequel thatís two movies in one

Another Public Enemy

Produced and directed by Woo-Suk Kang

Distributed by Tartan Asia Extreme, 2006

DVD, 148 minutes, $22.95

By Mike Street

Special to The Asian Reporter

South Korean director Woo-Suk Kangís Another Public Enemy is a semi-sequel to his 2002 Public Enemy, as it again stars actor Kyung-gu Sol as a rebellious lawman breaking the rules to bring his quarry to justice. In the first film, Sol faced off against a more traditional murderer, but in Another Public Enemy his foe is more subtle and elusive: a corrupt businessman who has others kill for him. The classic battle between maverick cop and defiant, arrogant evildoer is still the driving force behind his latest effort, which displays high production values and occasionally smart writing, but ultimately Kang tries to cram too much into one film, as if he were making an epic Citizen Kang instead of an action movie. This is not a fatal flaw, but some viewers may find themselves looking at their watches long before the inevitable climactic showdown.

Another Public Enemy can certainly be enjoyed without watching the first movie, since the only continuing character is the protagonist, Cheul-jung Kang (Sol), and no reference is made to the events of the first movie. Westerners familiar with characters such as "Dirty" Harry Callahan will recognize Kang as the no-nonsense cop with a distaste for paperwork and rules, a man more comfortable with a pistol than a pen. This rebellious streak gets him in trouble with his boss, who secretly admires Kangís way of getting the job done, even as he publicly scolds Kang for his excesses.

Though new to the job, Kang is eager to make his mark, and soon stumbles upon a case involving an old high school acquaintance, Sang-woo Han (Joon-hu Jung). As a miscreant teenager, Han was protected by his wealth, and he has grown to be a man who flaunts the law even more, though he has become better at hiding it. Kang, whose family came from more modest means, suspects his former classmate of foul play when Hanís father dies and his brother slips into a coma, leaving Sang-woo at the helm of the family mega-corporation. But the more Kang probes into the accidents causing these tragedies, the more resistance he encounters, some of it coming from the police department itself. Such is the fate of the loner cop fighting institutional corruption.

As the story develops, Woo-suk Kang shows us his directorial skill in exhilarating chase scenes, cold-blooded murders, and suspenseful showdowns between the two principals. Both Sol and Jung revel in their contrasting roles, chewing up the scenery when alone and producing amazing tension when they face off. They are the centerpieces of the film, and rightly so, for they carry it in every scene, but even they struggle under the massive weight of the plotline. After Prosecutor Kang is thwarted in his efforts to expose Hanís deeds, he is suspended just as the pieces of the case are beginning to fall together, a common trope of rebel-cop movies. Given a small window of opportunity to redeem himself, Kang shifts into bad-cop overdrive, and it is only then that he is able to finally reach the smug Han for the filmís denouement.

It is this second portion of the film that is so untidy ó in the typical rebel-cop script, the suspension occurs most of the way through the movie, leading directly to the climax that allows the release of the vengeful anger of the protagonist. In Another Public Enemy, however, the suspension happens about halfway through the film, and the tension produced by Kangís fury is stretched too far. In a way, this is almost two films: the first, the story of Kangís downfall, and the second, of his redemption.

But there is much to recommend Another Public Enemy, from fight scenes that truly feel like battle instead of intricately choreographed dance to the deft handling of the main characters. Solís barely restrained anger and Jungís deliciously devious arrogance are both performances well above typical action-movie fare in the East or West. Kang has been making films since the late 1980s, and his experience shows along with his confidence in making a two-and-a-half-hour action movie, a length typically reserved for dramatic epics.

As with many auteurs, Woo-suk Kang becomes a bit too enamored of his own gifts and eschews the editing that would have made this a crisp, tight action movie. Much like Stephen King during his early years of mass-market success, when the page count of his books climbed in tandem with their sales, Kang is evidently too proud to allow an editor to spoil his art. Once he learns this cinematic restraint, Woo-suk Kang will be able to create great films, rather than ones that are merely very good.

Another Public Enemy is now available on DVD. To learn more about Tartanís Asian film offerings, visit <www.tartanfilmsusa.com>.