You may not know his name, but Don Lee is a born movie star.
Every time the burly Korean actor appears onscreen in “The Roundup” with a “I guess I gotta kick someone’s ass right now” expression while a rock guitar groans, viewers sit up and notice it.
Blending brutal combat and broad comedy, “The Roundup” knows exactly what to do with Lee. A huge hit in South Korea, where a sequel has already been greenlit, “The Roundup” gets its Madison premiere at 7 p.m. tonight at the UW Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall.
The screening is free but seats are allocated in order of arrival. The film is also available for rental or purchase online.
In the prologue, the Seoul cops try to defuse a delicate hostage situation at a convenience store when Ma Seok-do (Lee) arrives like a dump truck and beats up the bad guy. No wonder he’s nicknamed the “dumb cop.”
Then, Ma and her supervisor, the captain (Choi Gwi-hwa), are sent to Vietnam to take care of a Korean national who has eagerly turned himself in to authorities. It turns out that the criminal is seeking the protection of the police; he was part of a gang that kidnapped and murdered a young Korean entrepreneur, and he fears retribution from the leader of the gang, a sleepy-eyed psychopath named Kang (Sukku Son).
Ma and her captain spend the first half of “The Roundup” in Vietnam off the books, trying to find Kang and seek justice for the murdered Korean. In the second half, everyone is back in Korea, where Kang tracks down the victim’s father, a wealthy and sleazy businessman named Choi (Nam Mun-cheol), to demand the ransom that never was. delivered.
Barely a gun is fired in “The Roundup”. Instead, fighters clash with axes, machetes, and knives, and the fight scenes approach slasher movie territory with the intensity of violence. Ma never wields a weapon – he doesn’t need to, wading through the fray with his mace fists.
Director Lee Sang-song handles the action scenes beautifully, especially in the final act, where a convoluted ransom delivery fractures into several separate fight scenes, culminating in a duel on a bus between Ma and Kang that puts the bus fight scene in “Nobody”. to shame.
“The Roundup” somehow manages to balance its hard-R violence against some pretty goofy comedy that wouldn’t be out of place in a Jackie Chan “Police Story” movie, especially in the interactions between Ma and her dimwitted captain while they are in Vietnam.
These elements of “The Roundup” shouldn’t go together, but they do, and make for a fun (if gory) time at the movies. Lee had a small role in “The Eternals,” but it probably won’t be long before he lands a starring role in a Hollywood action movie.
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