It’s open to debate why director Woo-Suk Kang (“Silmido”) has made a sequel to his popular 2002 crime film “Public Enemy” by bringing back the same star, but have him be a completely new character that just happens to share the same name as the character he played in the original. Confused? Don’t be. When you come right down to it, “Another Public Enemy” is essentially the same movie as its predecessor, which makes it less than a sequel and more of an unnecessary re-imagining. Except, of course, there isn’t a whole lot of “re-imagining” going on, which may beg the question: “Why?”
The answer seems readily obvious: the first one made money. So why not?
“Another Public Enemy” brings back star Kyung-gu Sol as Chul-jung Kang, a criminal prosecutor so devoted to his job that he voluntarily goes out on raids with the cops. As Kang informs us in the film’s opening scenes, it was while watching handsome rich boys like Sang-woo Han (Jun-ho Jeong) flaunt their ability to get out of any trouble using their wealthy pedigree that convinced Kang there was a desperate need for honest men in the criminal system. Now adults, Sang-woo and Kang crosses paths once again when the former is suspected in not only his father’s death, but also the near fatal “accident” of his younger brother.
As Kang begins his investigation, he discovers that the rich have ways to skirt justice, and it includes leisurely trips on posh golf courses with politicians and, literally, buckets of cash tossed into the trunk while the golf game is in full swing. As he did when he was a schoolboy, Sang-woo puts on the full court press using his power and privilege to stifle Kang’s investigation, and failing that, it’s time for something more personal and face-to-face, with fists doing the talking.
If you’ve seen the first “Public Enemy”, “Another Public Enemy” is essentially working from the same script. Once more, the underdog Kang, who despite having an amazing memory and devout adherence to truth, justice, and the Korean way this go-round, is still very much out-classed, out-smarted, and out-charmed by the sociopath Sang-woo. As with the original, Kang finds a way around his obstacles using pure mad dog persistence. The guy really is quite amazing if you think about it, which may explain why the filmmakers were so hesitant to tinker with the character at all aside from affixing him with a new job title.
As an odd, parallel universe offshoot of the original, or even as a new movie entirely, “Another Public Enemy” is serviceable as a drama/comedy/crime film, even if it does last much too long at over two hours-plus of running time. That means much of the film is spent with uninteresting bureaucratic maneuvering as Kang attempts to do his job while the bosses try to block him at every step. It’s all very uninteresting stuff, and would actually be somewhat more interesting if we hadn’t already seen it the first time around in the original film. In short, there doesn’t seem to be any practical reason why the film should be two hours, much less two hours and 20 minutes.
In the lead, Kyung-gu Sol is convincing and endearing as the stoic prosecutor, and Sang-woo makes a good villain, the kind of rich scum that you want Kang to clean up at all cost. Less respectable is the film’s not-so-subtle uses of the Sang-woo character as a representative of a certain Western power, while Kang represents the pious, steadfastness and honesty of Mother Korea. If you didn’t “get” that Sang-woo is supposed to represent Evil America by the many mentions of America in association with Sang-woo’s evil deeds, then all traces of doubt should vanish when Sang-woo boasts that he’s an “all American” citizen. At a time when anti-Americanism is a trendy fad in Korea, such predictable and self-serving politicking by the filmmakers is more than a little disgusting.
If you enjoyed the mesh of comedy, drama, and violence of the original, “Another Public Enemy” is a second serving, and little else. Add to that some red meat for the home crowd via the film’s jingoistic nationalism (which in itself is an oddity, as you seldom find nationalistic pride in crime films), and this is serviceable entertainment for the undemanding masses. There’s little detour in the formula by director Woo-Suk Kang, which, depending on your expectations, is either a good thing or a bad thing. One does wish the sequel had ventured into new territory, as there doesn’t seem to be any real reason to make a sequel if there wasn’t any ambition attached.
Heck, even the filmmakers behind “My Wife is a Gangster” gave their leading lady amnesia in the sequel. Woo-Suk Kang and company didn’t even bother to give their hero a new name. Is that laziness or homage? You decide.
Woo-Suk Kang (director) / Woo-Suk Kang (screenplay)
CAST: Kyung-gu Sol …. Chul-jung Kang
Jun-ho Jeong …. Sang-woo Han
Shin-il Kang …. Shin-il Kim