Story: It's the year 2004. Seoul's Garibong district is full of Chinese immigrants and it's the task of Detective Ma Seok-do (Ma Dong-seok)
and his superior (Choi Gwi-hwa) to maintain law and order in the district. This works best by keeping a balance between the two local rival gangs. But one
day debt collector Jang Chen (Yoon Kye-sang) and his two subordinates turn up. They kill one of the two mob bosses since one of his men owed Jang a good amount
of money. There is no limit to the three gangsters' brutality and when they chop off the hand of a karaoke bar owner while Ma is in the next room having some
fun the detective has enough already. He solely focuses on pursueing the three gangsters. As time passes and there is no progress in the case pressure on
the Garibong police unit is cranked up. The Chinese police want to take over the case and so Ma's team doesn't have much time left. They ask the local
residents for help. Jang has taken over one of the gangs and extorts protection money from them which is why the residents are afraid to help the police
at first. But Ma and his team get closer and closer to the three gangsters.
Review: There is no actor in Korean cinema who I'm so delighted to see getting a breakthrough like Ma Dong-seok. His imposing physical
appearance and his likeable nature allowed him to steal the lead actor's spotlight in quite a few movies already, even in "Train to
Busan". In "The Outlaws" he is allowed to play a police officer just tailored to him. Seok-do knows exactly how to differentiate between good
and evil, yet he is also aware that you sometimes have to settle for a compromise in order to make the good guys have more pull in the long run. Even though
he may take a few questionable deals he does so with the kind of casualness and also sort of good-naturedness that you can never see him as anything different
but a good cop. And when the situation demands it he can also hit hard. And most of the time the recipient doesn't get up again.
The movie is based on a police operation in Seoul's Garibong district in 2004. The district, which is actually an almost autonomous China Town, struggles with a
lot of crime, but one cop, his boss and his men, who have their base in a container, know how to keep the balance. But with the appearance of a new, ruthless
villain Ma Dong-seok has to prove in his role that he is in no way inferior to Hollywood action heroes of the 80s. "The Outlaws" doesn't just thrive on
its lead actor, but also its pecularities. For instance, there is the already mentioned Garibong district which gives you a different view on Korea, there
are the rivaling gangs, the power struggle between them and a well-balanced mix of no-slapstick humor and very dark and even a bit bloody scenes.
The story's villain is of a completely different caliber than the gangsters the police had to keep in check before. Yoon Kye-sang
("Poongsan") may not play the villain in a truely memorable fashion, but at least unscrupulous and unpredictable enough for
his character to be a real threat. His arrogance with which he strolls through the streets as if he owns them, whereas his only weapon is his disposition for
violence, serves as a good means to raise the suspension towards the finale. After all, we are quite aware that at some point someone is about to teach him a
lesson. And here the showdown deserves some special words of praise. Jang Chen and Seok-do only clash at the end and seldomly it gives you such satisfaction to
see the villain get what he deserves.
Even before that there are a few brawls and knife fights that come along with the appropriate level of intensity, especially since the villainous trio
is constantly depicted as mad and dangerous. Thus, there is in fact quite some blood to be seen, but at other times the humor hits the right notes as well,
for example when Seok-do asks one of his subordinates to rub some oil on his arm since he can't really reach his enormous upper arm. After all, what
problems does a cop have who is constantly beaten and stabbed? Right, dry skin. Moreover, this is also a fine opportunity to showcase that Ma Dong-seok's
biceps has probably become even bigger than in previous movies. Both of his upper arms actually would have deserved separate mentioning in the credits. Yes,
director Kang Yoon-Sung knows have to make fun of himself and his work.
"The Outlaws" is no movie you haven't seen before. But the setting gives the movie something refreshing. Furthermore, the picture doesn't attempt to be more than it is. Unnecessary melodrama is steered clear of and there is also no attempt to make the movie look bigger by implementing some epic-scale mob brawls. Instead the director works within his own framework and with his own ingredients and this makes up for an honest and well-done crime-thriller. Alongside "Midnight Runners" this is already the second movie in a short time which is proud ot its individuality and content with being a little bit smaller in scale. And that's exactly what makes movies like this bigger in the end. Apart from that "The Outlaws" is also just a fantastically entertaining film with a well-done mix of humor and dark thriller elements as well as a great lead actor with some likable rough edges.