Berlin 2024 – The Roundup: Punishment, with Korean hard man Ma Dong-seok as a po-faced punching machine, is like a Hong Kong action movie on steroids

3/5 stars

Those who revel in the sound of knuckles crashing into faces, rejoice: South Korean master puncher Ma Dong-seok (aka Don Lee) has returned with The Roundup: Punishment, in which his no-nonsense, po-faced police officer again gets to thrash an endless stream of thugs in backstreet alleys, cramped toilets and the business-class cabin of an aeroplane.
Now into the fourth instalment of the series and with stunt coordinator Heo Myeong-haeng (Badland Hunters) taking the helm, the story has become more lightweight as the action has become more intense, with Ma’s now legendary Detective Ma and his underlings assigned to bust a gang running an internet gambling scam.

From the film’s very first set piece, in which the actor gets to show off his near-superhuman strength by removing a massive metal gate from its hinges with his bare hands, The Roundup: Punishment never really lets up.

Bolstered by a brilliant sound-effects team who have boosted the whirl and crunch of Lee’s each and every punch to skull-crushing effect, there is hardly any room left to ponder anything else.

Not that The Roundup: Punishment, which premiered out of competition at the Berlin International Film Festival, calls for that much thinking anyway. Co-adapted by Ma himself from a screenplay by Oh Sang-ho (Fabricated City), the premise is simple even in the context of The Roundup series.
Kim Moo-yeol (front) as the leader of the criminal gang in a still from The Roundup: Punishment. Photo: ABO Entertainment / Bigpunch Pictures / Hong Film / B.A. Entertainment

A criminal gang kidnaps South Korean computer programmers and takes them to the Philippines to keep their offshore online casino servers running. Spurred on by the brutal murder of an escaped abductee and the suicide of the young man’s mother, Ma sets off to destroy the clique and its knife-wielding killer-machine leader (Kim Moo-yul).

Playing out like a traditional Hong Kong actioner on steroids, The Roundup: Punishment is old-school to the point that it dares to make fun of its motley crew’s inability to catch up with the times.

Many a gag surrounds Ma’s inability to compute 21st-century IT concepts, such as when he fails miserably to understand why one syncs a phone, what open code means, and how criminals have resorted to using apps to sell drugs.

Ma Dong-seok in a still from The Roundup: Punishment. Photo: ABO Entertainment / Bigpunch Pictures / Hong Film / B.A. Entertainment

But that’s perhaps what makes Ma such an endearing figure to many, his instincts to right wrongs by brutal force set in contrast to the sleazy shenanigans of the sharp-suited, crypto-peddling villain (Lee Dong-hwi) in the film.

Ma’s deadpan delivery is perhaps made serviceable also because of the scene-stealing hamming of his loud, long-running sidekick Jang I-soo (Park Ji-hwan).

Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.