review by Carrie
Gorringe, 20 June 2003
Seattle International Film Festival
South-Korean crime film Public Enemy (Gonggongui Jeog)
takes viewers into a more sophisticated realm of problem solving
than William Wellman's 1931 classic could have imagined.
How can scruffy Detective Kang (played to the hilt by Soel
Kyung-gu), who's always coming under fire from Internal Affairs for
his unorthodox methods, convince anyone that the
immaculately-tailored and upwardly-mobile fund manager Mr. Cho (Lee
Seong-jae) is nothing more than a common sociopath who
cold-bloodedly murdered his parents because they were about to
interfere with, as he saw it, his right to make money by using
theirs? At best, all
Kang has is circumstantial evidence and a hunch that Cho is the
guilty party. To compound the issue, a second, seemingly copycat, murder
takes place, making Kang's assertions against Cho seem almost
aggressive manoeuvres against Cho to force a confession get him
demoted, but he still keeps investigating.
Eventually, one small fragment of evidence – enough to
place Cho's well-enameled alibi and lifestyle in jeopardy – falls
into Kang's hands, and he's not slow on the pickup. Director Kang Woo-Seok takes a well-crafted script and
unabashedly runs with it, taking audiences through a 138-minute
drama that, in lesser hands, could have been an exercise in tedium.
The real strength of Public Enemy lies in the shrewd,
yet basically-drawn class conflict that permeates the plot and the
charisma of the two lead actors, who literally embody their
characters' ambitions. There
are genuine moments of nail-biting tension, as Kang and Cho go about
their psychological pas de deux, each one waiting for the
other to crack under the strain. As Cho sadistically ups the ante on
Kang, Kang, much to Cho's surprise and eventual horror, grows
stronger. The finale is
a well-choreographed twenty-minute slugfest, filled with appropriate
touches of black humor. Thanks to its advantages, this Public
Enemy is a film that rises above the conventional.
Seattle International Film Festival:
Frank Michael Liu
Kin Yee Au
NR - Not Rated.
This film has not