are just fun to watch. Such is the case with Detective
Kang Chul-Joong, the rough-around-the-edges anti-hero
of Public Enemy, a gritty, bloody cop movie
that earned both critical praise and box office success
upon its release in 2002. Prone to taking bribes and
beating out confessions, Detective Kang is clearly
not your average hero. With internal affairs breathing
down his neck and his career in jeopardy, Kang seems
utterly lost - that is, until a chance encounter with
a brutal serial killer reawakens something inside
of him, spurring him to take action and bring the
murderer to justice.
But the biggest challenge
facing Detective Kang is the identity of the serial
killer. He knows who it is; he just can't prove it.
First of all, Kang doesn't have any physical evidence.
Secondly, his reputation as a cop is at an all-time
low. And perhaps worst of all, the murderer is actually
a respected member of society: Chul Gyu-Hwan (Lee
Sung-Jae), a charming businessman who is not only
a wonderful family man, but is so wealthy that he
would have no motive to kill anyone. Or so it seems.
That perception is far from the reality, as Chul will
do just about anything to insure his success or avenge
his wounded pride, even if it means murdering his
own parents! What follows is a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse
in which the fallen lawman does everything in his
power to bring the remorseless killer to justice.
But does Kang have what it takes to get the job done?
does a fine job in building a sense of anticipation
for the face-to-face confrontation between these two
characters. The film begins by introducing them separately,
following each one's story so the audience can see
their individual situations, their problems, and their
motives. Once these separate tracks have been laid
in the first quarter of the film, the two characters
finally cross paths, intensifying the narrative's
momentum exponentially. While I'm still not sure of
the legal ramifications of the final showdown, it
nevertheless makes for cathartic, if brutal entertainment.
In Public Enemy,
there is no black-and-white depiction of good guys
and bad guys; almost everyone is painted in shades
of gray. While Detective Kang represents the side
of "good," he has enough character flaws
to show that he is far from the conventional hero.
In his role as the hard-bitten detective, Sul Kyung-Ku
is electric onscreen. You never know what his character
is going to do, and that unpredictability makes him
a joy to watch. While Kang is still pig-headed and
somewhat simpleminded throughout the film, his good
qualities slowly emerge to contradict the corrupt
figure he's become. Even when he's violating police
procedure, there is a kind of integrity in his actions.
While Kang does not seem to perceive it on a conscious
level, this case is his one last shot at redemption,
but as the film wears on, the audience grows unsure
of whether he'll live to see it.
As the second lead,
Lee Sung-Jae portrays a believable sociopath, a man
who wears a smile to mask his true evil. Lee believably
portrays the two personalities, showing Chul as a
man able to operate in the world as a seemingly loving
husband, good son, and all-around nice guy. But when
someone offends his delicate sensibilities, homicide
is Chul's natural response. Lee makes this transformation
believable, and convincingly portrays a character
who is intelligent and immensely proficient at what
he does, making him an excellent foil to Detective
Kang, who is his polar opposite in appearance and
In between all the murder
and mayhem, there's a nice bit of comic relief spread
throughout Public Enemy. Kang Shil-In does
a fine job as Detective Kang's superior, whose character
serves as both stoic mentor and comic straight man.
The more overt humor comes in the form of supporting
actors Lee Moon-Sik, Yoo Hae-Jin, and Sung Ji-Roo,
all playing assorted lowlifes who appear at different
times to lighten the mood, yet still within the framework
of advancing the story. This mix of light and dark
may seem contradictory or even off-putting, but somehow
director Kang Woo-Suk makes it work.
If you're looking for
a more innovative variation on the typical "serial
killer on the loose" plotline, Public Enemy
definitely delivers the goods. Thanks to the magnetic
performances from the film's two leads, an unconventional,
if sometimes unsympathetic protagonist, and a healthy
dose of comedy, Kang Woo-Suk's Public Enemy
amounts to a solid cop thriller, one that explores
the darker side of human nature with thoroughly compelling
results. (Calvin McMillin, 2005)