The Roundup: Punishment


The Roundup: Punishment

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“The Roundup: Punishment” is the third sequel in a series of Korean cop thrillers featuring a tank-sized boxer nicknamed the “monster cop.” Somehow, these movies aren’t as fun as that suggests. Ma Dong-seok, aka Don Lee, plays Seok-do, the only memorable constant in this episodic action franchise, which began in 2017 with the hit “The Outlaws.” In the last three movies, Seok-do punched bad guys across the room and smashed through whatever physical obstacles stood in his way. Because what else are you going to do with a guy who looks like Benjamin Grimm’s second cousin?

Lee wasn’t as big of a star in 2017, especially not outside of Asia, so it’s unsurprising that the tone of the first two sequels toggle wildly between unfortunately broad police comedy and bloody, generic crime drama. Somehow, each new “The Roundup” installment has simultaneously relied more on Lee’s presence and less on his gifts. He still pummels bad guys in “The Roundup: Punishment,” about an online casino and a handful of grisly murders. But Lee’s still not only in not enough scenes, but sadly, he also doesn’t get to show off his knack for physical comedy.

Seok-do remains part of a team of otherwise forgettable police officers. They abide by the law, get cheesed off by violent criminals, and always get their men. They’re not quite M Squad nor the Sweeney, but they do have a monster cop on their team, and that’s sometimes enough. When Lee’s not on-screen, these movies are all about their villains, desperate crooks who are usually Korean but still don’t quite fit in anywhere. 

This movie’s broody antagonist is Baek Chang-ki (Kim Mu-yeol), a chilly ex-mercenary who runs an online casino in the Philippines. Baek inevitably finds himself at odds with his business partners, led by the weaselly IT prodigy Chang Dong-cheol (Lee Dong-hwi). Baek also ruthlessly stabs one of his casino’s (literally) captive employees to death. That puts Baek at odds with Seok-do, who makes a promise to the victim’s mother (who dies almost instantly)—he will punish whoever’s responsible.

There are ways to dress up such a stock plot without taking viewers too far afield of, say, action or chase scenes, most of which are polished but unremarkable. But the makers of “The Roundup: Punishment” don’t seem to care enough to make their latest procedural seem personal. Without spoiling anything: nothing in this movie really suggests a strong emotional connection between Seok-do and the people he says that he’s fighting for. There’s also not much to latch onto during scenes where Chang acts like a snotty bigshot, mainly because his dialogue isn’t juicy enough to make you want to root against him. At least Baek never over-promises in his scenes; he glares, he stabs, he kills.

“The Roundup: Punishment” flounders hardest during any comedic tangent that isn’t about Don Lee. He’s sometimes a comic foil for Jang Yi-soo (Park Ji-hwan), a small-time crook who gets tricked into working for the police with a toy FDA badge (he thinks he’s been deputized). Park does well with his limited part, but his jokes are never as amusing as his presence. With all due respect to Park, who exactly wants to watch this guy mug for the camera when you could be watching Lee instead?

It’s not like the makers of “The Roundup: Punishment” don’t understand Lee’s appeal. He aces the comedic punchline at the end of a somewhat involved chase scene. The cops race after Choi Yu-Seong (Bae Jae-won), one of Baek’s associates, who seems to get away until Seok-do tricks Choi into joining him in the back of a mini-van. There’s not much to Seok-do’s dialogue—“Has to be for a reason, right?”—but Lee’s presence makes this subpar zinger seem worthy of Bugs Bunny.

Unfortunately, the action scenes in “The Roundup: Punishment” also lack the antic energy that makes Lee stand out in the first place. There’s a lot more boxing choreography but fewer scenes where Seok- demolishes solid barriers and glass jaws with hilarious abandon. The concluding fight with Baek has its moments, but more often feels skimpy and self-serious.

It’s not hard to see the appeal of “The Roundup: Punishment” given the technical polish and formulaic conventions that keep this series chugging along. But Lee still deserves better dialogue—“I made someone a promise. To punish you.”—and better jokes, too. He even devours throwaway laugh lines, like when Seok-do struggles to repeat an inspirational speech to his colleagues moments after the Commissioner delivers the same spiel to him. Watching the big man soldier on despite his poor memory is the best reason to get excited—and maybe a little disappointed—for yet another “The Roundup.” Someday, Lee will get the comedic starring vehicle he deserves; he’s a decent action hero but a better gagman.

Simon Abrams
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: Punishment movie poster

The Roundup: Punishment (2024)

109 minutes


Ma Dong-Seok
as Ma Seok-do

Kim Moo-yul
as Baek Chang-gi

Park Ji-hwan
as Jang I-soo

Lee Dong-Hwi
as Jang Dong-cheol

Lee Ju-bin
as Han Ji-su

Lee Beom-soo
as Jang Tae-su

Kim Min-jae
as Kim Man-jae

Lee Ji-hoon
as Yang Jong-su

Kim Do-gun
as Jung Da-wit

Kim Shin-bi
as Kang Nam-su


  • Heo Myeong-haeng


  • Oh Sang-ho

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