There’s no mistaking it, director Kang Woo-suk excels in spraying testosterone, like John Woo’s bullets, all over the screen. Public Enemy is a brutal and quite bizarre mix of audience-pleasing suspense, violence and laughs.
If he were just a bad-mouthing, savage maniac, Seol’s cop would be a sort of Dirty Harry, but one that hadn’t showered and shaved in a month. As it stands, he’s also something of an underdog, unkindly pursued by the DA and internal affairs for his crazy misconduct and suspected acts of corruption. It’s here that I found a way to enjoy this largely implausible and shamelessly stupid film. Sometimes even a bad cop can do some good.
But Kang has a lot of trouble maintaining control of his story’s many connected elements. The story is too long, it fails to absolutely sell it’s moral outcome, and the combination of so many elements along the way makes it feel like you’re watching three movies instead of one. While there are plenty of good moments to be had through the supporting characters (I especially like the new station’s new Captain), and the action, which is jubilantly over-the-top, a lot rests on one’s reaction to Seol. I’m always uncertain about his grimacing, teech-clenching performances. There’s a lot of wild beast in there, and it’s not always appropriately tamed. Like Kang’s Silmido, this is yet another masculinity-in-overdrive movie for the tough, merciless … and just a little braindead.