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Asian cinema: Korean films

Film review: The Outlaws – violent South Korean turf war brought to life in police thriller

Starring Ma Dong-seok and directed by Kang Yoon-seong, The Outlaws features plenty of stylish blood-letting and unchecked machismo as it trains its focus on Chinese-Korean immigrants and a ruthless fight for power

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 7:10pm

4/5 stars

A brutal turf war in Seoul’s Garibong neighbourhood provides the setting for Kang Yoon-seong’s The Outlaws, a gritty police procedural that blends bloody gangland savagery with wicked gallows humour to thrilling effect.

Ma Dong-seok, the heavy-set star of Train to Busan, plays Inspector Ma of the Serious Crime Unit, tasked with upholding order between the rival local crime syndicates. But all hell breaks loose when the Black Dragon Gang from Yanbian in China arrives, looking to seize control of the neighbourhood in a series of attacks on high-level bosses that forgoes any kind of agreed protocol.

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Seeking help from local shopkeepers and restaurateurs, whose businesses are exploited by whichever gang is control, Ma and his team have just 10 days to identify and apprehend the Black Dragons. Most shocking is that their leader, the homicidal Jang Chen (played by a terrifying Yoon Kye-sang), arrived with just two henchmen, and has built his army from local thugs using sheer intimidation and fear.

The South Korean film scene has long been saturated with testosterone-fuelled crime thrillers, which can often feel shallow and derivative. But when handled intelligently, as is the case here, nobody can match them for their stylish blood-letting and unchecked machismo.

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Inspired by the real-life “Heuksapa Incident” that took place in 2007, Kang’s directorial debut is just the latest in a string of films – ranging from The Yellow Sea to Midnight Runners – to train its focus on Chinese-Korean immigrants. Often portrayed as unpredictable and barbaric, they contrast vividly with the more sophisticated and affluent appearance of Korea’s home-grown criminals.

If anything, the Black Dragons more closely resemble the cops – a similarity not lost on Kang, who also penned the script that positions Ma and Jang at opposing ends of the same ruling rod of power. Their climactic showdown proves one of the more memorable – and violent – clashes in a film that rarely gives you time to catch your breath.

The Outlaws opens on February 1

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