The Roundup: Punishment movie review (2024)

Lee wasn’t as big of a star in 2017, especially not outside of Asia, so it’s unsurprising that the tone of the first two sequels toggle wildly between unfortunately broad police comedy and bloody, generic crime drama. Somehow, each new “The Roundup” installment has simultaneously relied more on Lee’s presence and less on his gifts. He still pummels bad guys in “The Roundup: Punishment,” about an online casino and a handful of grisly murders. But Lee’s still not only in not enough scenes, but sadly, he also doesn’t get to show off his knack for physical comedy.

Seok-do remains part of a team of otherwise forgettable police officers. They abide by the law, get cheesed off by violent criminals, and always get their men. They’re not quite M Squad nor the Sweeney, but they do have a monster cop on their team, and that’s sometimes enough. When Lee’s not on-screen, these movies are all about their villains, desperate crooks who are usually Korean but still don’t quite fit in anywhere. 

This movie’s broody antagonist is Baek Chang-ki (Kim Mu-yeol), a chilly ex-mercenary who runs an online casino in the Philippines. Baek inevitably finds himself at odds with his business partners, led by the weaselly IT prodigy Chang Dong-cheol (Lee Dong-hwi). Baek also ruthlessly stabs one of his casino’s (literally) captive employees to death. That puts Baek at odds with Seok-do, who makes a promise to the victim’s mother (who dies almost instantly)—he will punish whoever’s responsible.

There are ways to dress up such a stock plot without taking viewers too far afield of, say, action or chase scenes, most of which are polished but unremarkable. But the makers of “The Roundup: Punishment” don’t seem to care enough to make their latest procedural seem personal. Without spoiling anything: nothing in this movie really suggests a strong emotional connection between Seok-do and the people he says that he’s fighting for. There’s also not much to latch onto during scenes where Chang acts like a snotty bigshot, mainly because his dialogue isn’t juicy enough to make you want to root against him. At least Baek never over-promises in his scenes; he glares, he stabs, he kills.