When there’s “No Way Out,” you want Det. Ma by your side.

Crime stories are a staple in cinematic storytelling. These stories take the form of films like Internal Affairs (1990), Crime Story (1991), Heat (1995), and The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil (2019). Sometimes, the individual films are standalones (Point Break (1991)). Sometimes, they are part of a series (In the Line of Duty: Yes, Madam! (1985)). In the case of actor/writer/producer Don Lee, also known as Ma Dong-seok, his role as Detective Ma Seok-do of the South Korea Police Department is the central figure of the Crime City series, also known as The Outlaws (2017), The Roundup (2022), and now, The Roundup: No Way Out. Detective Ma is best described as a gentle giant with a strong mind and silly spirit who takes little guff, but, if pressed, possesses the power to knock you straight into the next realm with a single punch. It’s these aspects that make Ma so much fun for audiences to watch, managing to treat each criminal he must fight as a mild annoyance when all he wants to do is arrest them. Even now, three films deep, with both returning The Roundup director Sang-yong Lee and returning screenwriter Kim Min-sung,  this schtick is not only still fresh, it’s an absolute joy.


Lee Jun-hyuk as Joo Seong-cheol in THE ROUNDUP: NO WAY OUT. Photos courtesy of Capelight Pictures.

On the down low, Joo Seong-cheol (Lee Jun-hyuk) works to revitalize and sell a drug called Hiper on the streets of Korea while trying to keep Tomos’s yakuza brethren in Japan unaware of what they’re doing. But as their activities start resulting in bodies dropping, Detective Ma (Lee) and his team, upgraded to Metro Investigations from Geumcheon Police Station, start poking around. What they think is a simple drug dealer problem turns into something far more complicated as they realize that the involvement of Japanese gangsters can only mean more violence is to come.

Like The Roundup, No Way Out is a standalone film in the larger series known in Korea as Crime City, so whether you’re coming to this with prior knowledge or as your first story, there’s no loss of enjoyment. Kim’s script makes sure to establish Ma quickly, as well as his working relationship with his team, though this time it focuses more on Ma than on any other members (as seen especially in The Roundup). If you have seen the other films, you’ll be able to pick up on continued references (ex: The Room of Truth), introduction setups, or familiar tactics, but awareness of these things won’t make or break the experience for you. These are like the Rush Hour films in that they feature the same leads, but the journey of the story directs the course of action. You can really jump in anywhere and still have a good time, but for those who have watched the prior two Crime City films, you’re going to have a blast. Detective Ma is back!


Don Lee/Ma Dong-seok as Ma Seok-do in THE ROUNDUP: NO WAY OUT. Photos courtesy of Capelight Pictures.

Having well-established Lee as Ma, much of what the audience receives in No Way Out feels familiar. Rather than breaking free from what now feels like an iconic introduction, Ma “steps” into frame here as he does in the prior two films: on his way somewhere, running late, and coming across someone with a bigger mouth than brains. Here, though, is where Kim immediately sets the stage for what’s to come as Ma refrains from his usual open-palm strike for a closed fist, something the brawler usually reserves for more difficult opponents or the main baddie of the film. Much in the same way the film moves with a brisk intentionality from start to finish, Ma is presented as someone who just wants to get to the point instead of playing around. Lee never presents Ma as angry or frustrated in these situations, more so as put out from having to get physical with someone. Is there a moment like in The Roundup where Ma hits someone so hard their head goes through a windshield? Maybe. But what we do get will delight action fans who enjoy a bit of cheek with their fisticuffs.

Another step in a new direction is it appears that, unlike the first two films, No Way Out isn’t based on any real events. This makes what plays out here the first of the Crime City series where Kim could really take things wherever he wanted. This means that there are some familiar beats (as mentioned), but the whole of the film is decidedly unique. In fact, where the first two films made things straightforward in terms of character positioning and ethics, Kim found a way to reinterpret Ma’s nemesis so that it wouldn’t be another rehash of the villains from the prior two stories. For his part, Jun-hyuk is positively terrifying as Joo, creating a villain who stands apart from The Outlaw’s Jang Chen (Yoon Kye-sang) and The Roundup’s Kang Hae-sang (Son Sukku) in terms of desire for violence, intelligence, and execution of plans. Because of this, the final confrontation, a staple of these films, does not disappoint.


Center: Munetaka Aoki as Ricky in THE ROUNDUP: NO WAY OUT. Photos courtesy of Capelight Pictures.

As someone who grew up with Richard Donner and Danny Glover’s Lethal Weapon series, I’m a sucker for a solid cop story in which the lead is a good cop willing to do what it takes to take out bad guys. Even with the knowledge that the law enforcement system is intrinsically tied to White Nationalism, the right writer with the right director and the right actor can make you forget all of that, especially when the character at the center only goes as far is necessary to catch the suspect. With No Way Out, Detective Ma has fully replaced the Lethal Weapon series as the kind of cop story that made my heart skip a beat, knowing that there would be even balance of drama, action, and comedy so that one never really knows how things are going to progress on the first one, while also being super fun on repeat viewings.

And rumor has it we won’t have to wait long for another adventure as a fourth story, currently subtitled Punishment, is slated for a 2024 release.

In South Korean theaters May 31st, 2023.
In select theaters June 2nd, 2023.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.

English Poster - THE Roundup-No Way Out

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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2 replies


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