The Outlaws is loosely based on real events that took place in 2007 in South Korea when illegal Chinese-Koreans smuggled into the province and wreaked havoc.
Ma Dong-seok (Train To Busan, The Good The Bad And The Weird) is a Korean detective working to bring the district under control.
His ways may seem peculiar and unorthodox, but he keeps the peace by slapping the heads of the rival gangs around, frequenting some of their establishments and occasionally forcing them to shake hands and make up, much to their chagrin.
Things change when Yoon Kye-Sang (Last (TV), The Unfair) arrives with his three buddies. Their no-nonsense approach is much more brutal then the existing gangs.
Kye-Sang and friends stab people, hack at them with axes and dismember bodies. The violence is unnerving, particularly as it’s so extreme, sometimes for minor things.
The gang grows and takes over more of the district and absorbs more of the gangs, before they end up with the monopoly on the area with just Jo Jae-yoon’s (Save Me (TV), The Prison) gang left.
As the cops close in, Kye-Sang increases his extortion rackets before he plans to flee back to China. Dong-seok and his chief Choi Gwi-hwa (Train To Busan, The Wailing) setup an elaborate scheme to ensure that never happens.
The police themselves face their own troubles as one team member decides he’s had enough and switches departments and another team is breathing down their necks, threatening to take the case off them.
Reading reports of the incidents that took place in 2007, I think it’s fair to say that director Kang Yoon-Seong and the production team have taken some liberties with the story.
Apparently the gangs weren’t as ruthless as has been made out and it was more about the extortion of the money.
What this means is that it feels all too familiar, particularly as we enter the final half-hour. It’s the usual tail of heads of gangs seemingly able to withstand much more than anyone else during fights.
They’re also that much better than anyone else in the fights, with the final battle seeing both men get back up from hits that would floor a rhino.
The film is over-long at two-hours and with so many rivals and gang-members crossing and double-crossing each other it can, at times, be hard to keep track of exactly who is on which side.
Still, if you can see past that, what you have is an enjoyable action film. It has plenty of action, all which is well directed, along with some comedy, mostly about how broke the cops are, and some warmth, with Dong-seok feeling protective of a young restaurant worker.
Dong-seok is dubbed the hardest working man in Korean film and his performance in The Outlaws won’t have done his reputation any harm. He’s intense, caring and funny too.
He shines in this film along with Kye-Sang who plays the psychopath unnervingly well. Despite the familiarity of it all, it’s still a worthy watch.