Posted: 03/19/2004


Public Enemy


by Del Harvey

This DVD is available for purchase at

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Seoul’s detective squad is being investigated by Internal Affairs. Detective Kang (Sol Gyung-goo) and his partner are returning from a raid which netted them three kilos of heroin. When their captain of detectives calls to warn them of the IA investigation, Kang’s partner shoots himself. Departing the scene before anyone can find out he was there, Kang hides the heroin and goes about his business. IA questions the cagey veteran but make no progress and must let him go, but not without assigning a young investigator to tail him. This bumbling young cop will turn up throughout the film, always one step behind Kang.

Kang was a gold medalist boxer, a tough but righteous street cop who cheated on his detective exams. But the new captain of detectives assigns him to a difficult case, partially to test his two-fisted rogue cop and partially because Kang found the only clue at the scene. The case involves the vicious stabbing murder of an elderly couple in their home in a upper middle class neighborhood of Seoul. On the night the murders occurred, Kang was on a stakeout with his partner detectives. There was a tremendous storm that night and Kang was struck with a nasty bout of diarrhea, forcing him to knock on stranger’s doors and beg to use their toilet. Refused by all, he finds space behind an electric pole on a sidestreet. Standing up after his embarrassing moment, he suddenly bumps into a man in a raincoat. Pissed off more than ever, he stalks after the man, calling out to him and smacking the back of the man’s head. The stranger stops as Kang continues to hurl curses at him. Then he swings a knife on Kang, who knocks it away, but not without taking a deep cut just under his eye. Embarrassed, he never tells any of his coworkers how he got the cut, but he makes it his personal grudge to find the stranger in the raincoat. When he’s called to the scene where the elderly couple was stabbed to death, he puts things together and finds the forgotten knife. He knows who the killer is; he just has to prove it.

A huge box-office hit in Korea, Public Enemy is an exhilarating mix of crime thriller and action comedy about a corrupt cop and a heartless stockbroker. A thrilling murder mystery caper that easily outguns Hollywood Dirty Harry in gangster Korean-style.

Director Kang Woo-suk has crafted another superb film from Korea’s growing stable of outstanding cinema. This film easily holds its own with the phenomenal Memories of Murder, Break Out, and Joint Security Area. The cinematography, by Kim Sung-bok, provides the eye with a vivid landscape for our players to act out their drama. Editing by Goh Im-pyo is perfectly paced to match the intentional comedy and pathos; no mean feat. And the acting, by Sol Gyung-goo as Kang and Baek Seung-jae as the knife-wielding strockbroker, is superb. Best of all is the script, which stylishly combines a delicate balance of humor and suspense with well-defined characters who drive this compelling drama.

Public Enemy is a must-see film and another excellent example of the high caliber of film emerging from Korea.

Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, and teaches screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.

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