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The Roundup: No Way Out

Last year, the South Korean action star Ma Deong-seok, aka Don Lee, took over the Korean cop thriller franchise “The Outlaws,” originally titled “Crime City” in Korea. A blockbuster sequel to “The Outlaws” was released in May under the revised title of “The Roundup,” which understandably shifts the series’ focus onto Lee and away from his foreign criminal antagonists (Korean-Vietnamese kidnappers in “The Roundup” and Chinese-Korean gangsters in “The Outlaws”). Apparently, this rebranding strategy worked (or helped, at least) because “The Roundup” was one of last year’s biggest box office hits. (It was #1 in Korea and #41 globally.)

In “The Roundup,” Ma Seok-do, Lee’s barrel-chested renegade cop, pummels his way through another pack of vicious baddies. A new sequel, “The Roundup: No Way Out,” delivers more episodic thrills, though, as in “The Roundup,” any scene without Lee feels like a waste of time. Both “The Roundup” movies are pretty generic, beyond an adequate serving of slapstick-y violence, while “The Outlaws” features a compelling villain and a well-used ensemble cast. “The Roundup: No Way Out” does not improve on the slightly refined formula of “The Roundup,” but it goes down a little smoother and is notably slicker.

Only Lee, a scene-stealing character actor, could make you want to root for a loutish character like Ma. Ma turns out villains by snapping their wrists, launching them across the room (often literally), or body-slamming them into doors, desks, windows, and what have you. He doesn’t waste time explaining himself, not to his peers, eyewitnesses, informants, or suspects that he shakes down. Ma winces and sighs easily because only he’s strong enough to punch through all that pesky police procedural red tape. In “The Roundup: No Way Out,” the Japanese yakuza send a merciless hitman, Ricky (Munetaka Aoki), to collect a stolen shipment of Hiper, an addictive new club drug, from the White Shark Clan, their thieving Korean partners.

Soon, Ma discovers the real reason why nobody else has stopped the sale of Hiper in Cheongdam: the White Shark Clan has not only been shielded, but actively helped by corrupt cop Joo Song-chul (Lee Jun-hyuk), who beats a fellow officer to death with a crowbar in his first scene, and is only identified as a policeman about 30 minutes later. That sort of asked-and-answered twist speaks to the effects-driven nature of these movies, which depend on simple summer movie pleasures, like physical comedy routines and/or one-sided fist fights that make Don Lee look like a beefy distant cousin of both Joe Don Baker and One Punch Man.

At least Ricky and the White Shark Clan are more compelling than the bloodthirsty Korean-Vietnamese kidnappers of “The Roundup,” who were only as compelling as they were convincingly implacable. There are some engaging car chases and physical fights in “The Roundup: No Way Out,” but they’re never the sum of their attractive parts, and their choreography tends to drag on. It’s still fun to watch Lee toss around large, physically imposing heavies like they’re man-sized beachballs, but even that attractive spectacle gets old, especially when you’re expected to see Ma as a human-scaled person who happens to move and talk like a comic strip character. (If Lee wasn’t already in a Marvel movie, I’d suggest that he should play Ben Grimm in the inevitable “Fantastic Four” reboot.)

That said, Lee’s knack for making you care about otherwise flimsy expository dialogue is his most unsung super-power. He’s typically charming as Ma, especially whenever his intimidating character struggles to figure out who to beat up next. There are a few more screwball-type gags and exchanges in “The Roundup: No Way Out,” which suggests that the series’ creative stewards are still figuring out how to improve a comforting recipe that’s obviously already working for them. The resulting comedic routines are mostly fine, but they can only do so much heavy lifting in another cookie-cutter 105-minute cops vs. thugs caper, full of tossed-off bloodletting, swearing, and leching. (“You still a ladies’ man?” “Still could be…”)

Both “The Roundup” and “The Roundup: No Way Out” are essentially Mad Libs-style rehashes of “The Outlaws,” only now with more of the signature mannerisms and poses that Lee’s fans have come to expect from him after several other prominent roles in movies like the 2018 arm-wrestling drama “Champion,” as well as the “Bad Guys” K-drama series (2014-2018) and its 2019 movie spinoff.

The characters in "The Roundup: No Way Out" and their problems are as insubstantial as you might expect from the action movie equivalent of a “Saturday Night Live” movie spinoff. But if you’re a Don Lee fan, you already know that this film's success depends on how long its creators can support their top-heavy star’s signature schtick. More than you might think, but less than you’ll probably like.

Now playing in theaters. 

Simon Abrams

Simon Abrams is a native New Yorker and freelance film critic whose work has been featured in The New York TimesVanity FairThe Village Voice, and elsewhere.

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Film Credits

The Roundup: No Way Out movie poster

The Roundup: No Way Out (2023)

105 minutes


Ma Dong-Seok as Ma Seok-do

Lee Jun-hyuk as Joo Seong-cheol

Munetaka Aoki as Riki

Lee Beom-soo as Jang Tae-su

Kim Min-jae as Kim Man-jae

Go Gyu-pil as Cho-rong

Jun Suk-ho as Kim Yang-ho

Jun Kunimura as President Ichizo

Ahn Se-ho as Ryo Tomokawa

Bae Noo-ri as Mimi

Choi Dong-gu as Hwang Dong-gu



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