South Koreans arguably make the best crime genre films. Even when the films aren’t masterpieces, they are still well made and enjoyable to watch. The Outlaws is one of them. Although The Outlaws will not be as iconic as, say, Memories of Murder, it is still a welcome entry to the crime genre.
The standout of the film is the Korean-American lead actor Ma Dong-seok, also known as Don Lee. In the film, which is based on the ‘Heuksapa Incident’, a real-life gang turf war that shook Seoul’s Garibong district in 2007, Ma plays a veteran, no-nonsense and pragmatic, police officer, Ma Seok-do, who have to maintain some semblance of law and order in a town run by local gangs. He does this, more or less, by his own brand of law enforcement. Ma recognises that gangs are here to stay. Instead of an attitude that he must purge the town where he is raised of gangsters, he is friends with them, frequents their clubs, drinks with them, but he is also not hesitant to dish out some beating if they step out of line. The gangsters respect Ma’s authority, if only unwilling, and order is somewhat maintained.
The status quo is upended when Jang Chen, a ponytailed killer from Harbin, China, played by former singer Yoon Kye-sang, arrives. He is a merciless debt collector who has no qualms about dismembering limbs when his customers fail to pay up. Aspiring to take over the town, Chen schemes to turn local gangs against each other.
Offering few surprises, The Outlaws’ straight-forward narrative chugs along at a brisk pace. There are plenty of well-choreographed fight sequences for fans of the genre to enjoy, especially, the climax in which Ma Dong-seok takes on Yoon Kye-sang. - Say Peng