By the time you get to the third installment of a franchise, you often know what to expect. Sometimes that can be repetitive and stale, but when it comes to The Roundup: No Way Out, the sequel to 2022’s The Roundup, itself a follow up to 2017’s The Outlaws, the filmmakers know exactly what audiences want—star Ma Dong-seok punching dudes very, very hard and being droll and hilarious as he does—and delivers a substantial amount of that. And it is good.
The plot is basic police movie stuff. We pick up with Ma’s detective alter ego, Ma Seok-do, who, as we said, excels at slugging people with substantial power. There’s a new drug on the loose of Seoul, Ma and his cop buddies want to stop those responsible, while various criminal factions want control of this lucrative trade and will do nefarious and violent things to achieve their goals. It’s the narrative equivalent of throwing some angry badgers into a box, shaking it up, and watching what happens. And in reality, it’s all essentially a delivery system for Ma slapping folks around.
No Way Out doesn’t do anything its predecessors didn’t do. Lee Sang-yong, who directed The Roundup, returns to the big chair and knows what made that movie the highest grossing South Korean movie of 2022 and doubles down on that. The success of these movies rests primarily on Ma’s broad shoulders, and he’s more than up for the task. Not only can the man throw down in damn entertaining fashion, he also oozes charisma as he handles his business. Charming and goofy, he’s also just an absolute bludgeon.
The whole thing plays like a throwback to ‘80s cop movies that are lighthearted and fun one moment only to turn dark and vicious the next. Again, another staple of the franchise. No Way Out is the kind of movie where the hero will punch a goon so hard the guy poops himself while the baddies torture and murder a cop. Or where the cops wind up at an hourly sex motel with a rotating bed, all played for laughs, immediately followed by the Yakuza brutally executing a traitor. The two tones don’t always jibe, it’s a delicate line to walk after all, but that’s a relatively minor quibble in the big picture.
There’s not really much more to say. The Roundup: No Way Out is slick and well executed, the pace and tempo zip along, the cast does a solid job—the bumbling cops are bumbling, the heinous villains are vile—and it all comes together into a sturdy package that does what it aims to do, does it well, and gets out with little muss. Fans of the other films, and South Korean action cinema in general, will find a great deal to enjoy. And let’s be honest, we’re here to watch Ma Dong-seok be charming and punch through chairs and knock people out, and No Way Out provides exactly what we’re after. And we get a Jun Kunimura cameo as a little treat! [Grade: B+]