The Roundup: Punishment

Source: Berlinale

‘The Roundup: Punishment’

South Korean star Don Lee has revealed that four more films are being planned for the hit Roundup franchise and confirmed he is lined up to return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The action star is in Berlin with The Roundup: Punishment, which will receive its world premiere tonight (February 23) as a Berlinale Special Gala.

It is the fourth instalment in a series that began with The Outlaws in 2017 before sequel The Roundup became the top grossing film at the Korean box office in 2022 with takings of nearly $100m (KRW131.3bn) – bringing audiences back to cinemas post-pandemic – and The Roundup: No Way Out ranked second last year with $78.5m.

Each film stars Lee as Detective Ma Seok-do (close to the actor’s Korean name Ma Dong-seok), who punches his way through the criminal underworld to serve justice. In the latest instalment, he is tasked with taking down an online gambling organisation and goes up against a cold-blooded villain played by Kim Moo-yul.

“Every time I make a film in this series, it’s very hard work,” said Lee, who also devises the stories based on real events and is involved on the production side through his company Big Punch Pictures. “There’s action design, character development and story to consider, and a lot of Korean audiences don’t want to lose the comedy element so that needs to be included too.

“I want to evolve this character [of Detective Ma] each time and he finds himself in a more serious situation with more emotional stuff going on this time. This is how we have tried to differentiate it from the previous films.”

Despite the challenges, Lee confirmed the franchise will continue. “We are working on the scripts for [The Roundup] five, six, seven and eight right now, each with different stories and tones,” Lee told Screen. “I will remain the central character until eight but, after that, I’m not sure yet.”

He confirmed that Lee Sang-yong, director of the second and third instalments, will return to helm the fifth film.

MCU return

Lee also has a string of non-Korean projects lined up including a return the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having previously played the near-immortal Gilgamesh in 2021 film Eternals. The superhero feature received a mixed reception on release but the actor said: “Personally, I love that that film. I love the director, Chloe Zhao, and I loved the whole production. It was incredible working with Marvel people like Kevin Feige and the actors. It gave me a lot of inspiration for setting up a film based on IP and designing a whole world.”

Asked which Marvel Studios film is next for him, he said: “I’m not sure yet. I always have to wait for the answer. All of a sudden, they’ll give me something.”

Further projects include a remake of his 2019 crime thriller The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil with Sylvester Stallone at Paramount and action feature Nonstop, which will bring together Asian martial arts stars Jet Li, Thailand’s Tony Jaa of Ong Bak and Indonesia’s Iko Uwais of The Raid alongside Lee.

“I have a lot going on in Hollywood and was supposed to shoot four last year,” said Lee, recalling how the actors strike placed the projects on pause. “But they’re all going again and I’m going back and forth Korea a lot right now.”

In order to upgrade the action in The Roundup: Punishment, one of South Korea’s best stunt co-ordinators took the reins as director. Heo Myeong-haeng first worked with Lee in 2012 on anthology feature Doomsday Book and his work ranges from the iconic hammer fight scene in Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy to features including Train To Busan, Extreme Job and Hunt. He also worked on all three previous Roundup films.

“With just I look, I know what he wants,” said Lee. “I have worked with a lot of great directors but, with him, we don’t really have a lot of conversations because we already know what the other is thinking. It’s really comfortable working with somebody like that. He’s almost like a best friend and a brother, and we’ve worked together for a long time on a lot of big action sequences.”

Also in Berlin for the premiere, director Heo told Screen: “My goal was to upgrade the storytelling in this film as well as the action, but this depends very much on the characters. For that reason, I upgraded the villains. They have to be strong. That’s the reason Ma Seok-do has to suffer more in order to catch them.”

It meant devising more ambitious scenes that ever seen before in the series. In terms of the most challenging to shoot, Lee adds. “The very last action scene in the movie. I don’t want to spoil it but that last scene – that was really hard.”

Seoul-based sales agent K-Movie Entertainment handles international sales of the film and closed a string of deals before the European Film Market (EFM) in Berlin, including to the US, UK and across Asia.

Preesnted by ABO Entertainment and produced by Hong Film, Big Punch Pictures and B.A. Entertainment, a local theatrical release date has not been set but is expected in the first half of 2024.