Lee Sang-yong's 'The Roundup' takes horse opera series to the next level

Scenes from “The Roundup” featuring actor Ma Dong-seok, who portrays Ma Seok-do [ABO ENTERTAINMENT]

“The Roundup,” the highly anticipated sequel to “The Outlaws” (2017), revolving around villain-tackling police officer Ma Seok-do, has brought excitement back to the cinemas as it garnered over 4 million ticket sales as of Tuesday, perhaps signaling an end to the dry spell the Covid-19 virus has cast on theaters.

The flick is director Lee Sang-yong’s feature film debut. Director Kang Yoon-sung, who took the helm of “The Outlaws,” passed the torch to Lee, with actor Ma Dong-seok, also known as Don Lee, also participating from the onset of the production process. Lee was part of the assistant directing team for “The Outlaws” as well.

After the press screening earlier this month, Ma revealed that he already had eight scenarios in mind for the franchise, which he would unravel one by one through the films. It was revealed that Lee will also take helm of the third work, scheduled to begin shooting next month.

Director Lee Sang-yong made his feature film debut with “The Roundup,” a sequel to “The Outlaws” (2017) revolving around villain-tackling police officer Ma Seok-do. [ABO ENTERTAINMENT]

According to Lee at an online interview Tuesday, the director admitted he felt pressure to live up to the expectations of the first installment.

“If things go wrong, I could perhaps hear the dreaded words that there is no sequel that measures up to the original,” he said. “Since this is a franchise film, I felt burdened to do well so that the narrative of Ma Seok-do can continue on. The most important element that I focused on while making the film was strengthening the narrative’s personality [such as the comedy, chemistry between the characters and the powerful action stunts by Ma Seok-do], which is what the audience expects and likes about this franchise.

“Another crucial factor to consider when continuing the installment is that as we expand the cinematic universe of ‘The Outlaws,’ Ma Seok-do, unlike other protagonists in the film, does not have any handicaps or inner conflicts. His motive derives only from his mindset that he wants to catch criminals, so it was important to maintain that while thinking about how his environment and the villains that he tackles can change.”

Scenes from “The Roundup” featuring actor Ma Dong-seok, who portrays Ma Seok-do [ABO ENTERTAINMENT]

In this expansion of the cinematic universe of Ma Seok-do, “The Roundup” has Seok-do and his boss, Jeon Il-man, travel to Vietnam to collect a suspect who turned himself in. However, Seok-do instinctively realizes that there is a bigger crime linked to the incident and uncovers a serial killer named Kang Hae-sang, portrayed by Son Suk-ku, who has been holding Korean tourists at ransom. Hae-sang becomes Seok-do’s next target as he chases him back to Korea.

“In the first film, there are three villains — Jang Chen and his pack,” Lee explained. “I saw the story as a horse opera where Ma Seok-do acts as a sheriff in the town of Garibong-dong, where he was keeping the town at peace. Then Jang Chen and his pack arrive and disrupt the town, which is why Seok-do has to capture Jang Chen to recover the town’s peacefulness. In ‘The Roundup,’ the film starts with Ma Seok-do’s task of purifying the tourism spot [by catching the suspect]. As I deliberated on how to expand the narrative, I read newspaper articles and saw documentaries about criminals who fly overseas after committing crimes in Korea. They are low-lives who are already at the precipice of things, which is how I thought of Kang Hae-sang. The character, unlike Jang Chen, moves alone, uses people when he needs them and discards them when they aren’t useful to him anymore. His obsession with money is what gets him to do anything for money.”

Although not without its fair share of violent stabbing and blood, “The Roundup” was rated 15 and above, unlike “The Outlaws,” which was rated R. Instead of directly showing the gory wounds, Lee chose to zoom the camera into the killers.

“I never found catharsis in seeing how the victims are destroyed and stabbed,” Lee said. “I thought it would be more gripping to focus on the actor’s [Son’s] gaze and his acting. I also didn’t want to overdo the blood gushing or the gory details because I thought it would get in the way of the audience focusing on the characters. I didn’t try to avoid getting the film an R-rating — I just wanted to convey the vicarious satisfaction to the audience as they see Ma Seok-do’s action sequences in defeating the villain, and how to make them look real.”

Lee singled out the bus scene, where the final fight between Ma Seok-do and Kang Hae-sang takes place, as his favorite.

“I think it was the best scene for both actors, Ma and Son,” he said. “Of course, the action sequences shown in Hae-sang’s hideout in Vietnam were top-notch, but the final action shots were the best. I still remember how Seok-do didn’t lose his composure but was determined to catch Hae-sang, while Hae-sang didn’t lose his viciousness until the very end. The comical lines delivered in-between are all credited to Ma, which made the final scenes more lively and entertaining.”