The Roundup and Popran are screening as part of the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs from July 14 – August 3.
The Roundup is the sequel to the fan favorite The Outlaws from 2017. Admittedly, I have not seen this first film, but one hardly needs to to get invested in the classic crime story of The Roundup. The film replicates with reverence the conventions of ’80s cop movies, with the devil-may-care police protagonist who can only hope to loosely follow the rules. But the film is also staged and choreographed in a way that rivals any other contemporary action flick.
Ma Dong-seok, fresh off of his Marvel debut in Eternals, is a burly physical specimen as this devil-may-care cop, and the script of The Roundup seems retrofitted to make the most out of Ma’s physique. Physical humor and punchlines are written around his character’s brute force approach to policing, and, while Ma’s performance is entertaining, these jokes grow tiresome after a fashion. And the humor in general is a bit hokey.
All in all, though, the tone of the film is what makes it so watchable. The film is light but knows when to go darker, and the action mirrors the shifts accordingly. Set pieces involving Ma fighting are more brawling, and often more humorous. Those involving the merciless villains are conversely more frantic and overtly violent. When the two styles meet in the second half of the film, the result is fairly electric fight choreography.
The Roundup: B
Shinichiro Ueda’s Popran is not what you might expect. The One Cut of the Dead director has made a film which sounds like an adaptation of King Missile’s “Detachable Penis.” It is a film in which the protagonist Tagami (Yoji Minagawa), a superficially charming and historically selfish CEO of a massively successful manga distributor, wakes up one morning to find his genitals missing. What news media call “Skyfish,” the phenomenon of phallic separation is impacting a small subset of Japan’s males. The Skyfish fly around like bats and, if they are not caught and reattached to their rightful owner within six days, they perish from starvation.
The premise for Popran reads like grounds for juvenile comedy (and there certainly is a fair bit of that, too). But Ueda uses this phallic conceit to send Tagami down a path of redemption. His “popran” is drawn to places from his past — to catch it, he must reconcile his past transgressions and confront the people that he hurt on his path to corporate success.
In this sense, you could call Popran surprisingly heartwarming. The film is lightly charming but also somewhat tedious and repetitive. In any case, it is certainly the most heartfelt film about misplaced genitalia I’ve ever seen. And that is about the most ringing endorsement I can give for this odd little film.
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)