Back in 2018, just one year off from his breakout performance in Train to Busan, and many years before his English language debut in The Eternals, I saw Don Lee star in a cop action/drama film loosely based on true events called The Outlaws at the Fantasia Film Festival. The film featured Lee as the irascible yet honourable Inspector Ma, the de facto leader of a special Serious Crimes Unit of the South Korean Police, in a role that proved Lee’s ability to ooze charisma was not just a one film wonder. Earning rave reviews and major box office success, a sequel felt inevitable, and after multiple pandemic-sized hurdles in the production process, that film, The Roundup, has finally arrived.
We catch up with the Serious Crimes Unit well after the events of the first film. But this time Inspector Ma must travel to Vietnam with the unit’s captain Jeon (Choi Gwi-haw) to escort back a Korean criminal who volunteers himself to return to Korea to face prosecution. Sensing an ulterior motive, Ma uses his bone-crunching style to uncover the truth and ends up head-long into a much bigger case of a Korean gang leader Kang (Sukku Son) and his kidnapping racket which targets rich Korean tourists. After discovering multiple bodies and surviving a massive machete fight, the action switches back to South Korea as Ma and his team close in on Kang.
In a move that not only sets the tone for viewers that have not seen the original film but also harkens back to the opening of The Outlaws, we are introduced to Ma as he makes his way through a crowd and bare handedly disarms an assailant with a knife. It’s another action-packed opener that quickly establishes that nothing has changed with Ma, despite his superiors growing wary of his bombastic style of police enforcement. The new film features an increased bond between the team, all of whom return from the first film, and especially between Ma and Jeon as the pair spent a good chunk of the time together in Vietnam investigating on their own. The chemistry between Lee and Choi Gwi-haw is fantastic and sparkles with comic energy.
Sukku Son just radiates as the villainous Kang. You can almost see him literally chewing up all the scenery around him, always on the verge of a wink directly into the camera at the audience watching. His Kang can turn on a dime though and is as smart, calculating, and unwavering as Ma himself. The pair play very well against each other and the epic final showdown between the 2 on a city bus is the exact type of knock-down, drag ’em out, balls-to-the-wall action sequence the audience has been dying for between these 2 for most of the film. Busses haven’t seen this much action since Bob Odenkirk’s Nobody.
At just over 90 minutes, The Roundup is a lean and mean action thriller that will keep the audience entrenched until the final credits roll. Don Lee continues to be one of the most charismatic actors of the current generation, and I do mean worldwide, as half the leading men in Hollywood wish they could exude this level of machismo so effortlessly. As hard-hitting and devastating as one of Don Lee’s mammoth punches, The Roundup will leave audiences battered with glee and begging for more, which is good since a third film is already in production.
- Genre: Action, Action Drama, Cop Drama
- Release Date: 8/9/2022
- Directed by: Lee Sang-yong
- Starring: Choi Gwi-haw, Don Lee, Ha-Jun, Heo Dong-won, Park Ji-hwan, Park Ji-young, Sukku Son, Yoon Byung-hi
- Produced by: Jang Won-seok, Kim Hong-baek, Ma Dong-seok (Don Lee), Tao Nguyen
- Written by: Kim Min-seong, Lee Sang-yong, Lee Young-jong, Ma Dong-seok (Don Lee)
- Studio: Capelight Pictures