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Berlin Film Festival 2024: The Roundup: Punishment, Last Swim, Through The Rocks And Clouds | Festivals & Awards




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It’s worthy of that lofty placement: “Punishment” is a rock ’em, sock ’em edition that pretty much delivers all the open-hand slaps, booming punches, and flying knees to the head you want. 

For Ma’s latest case, he must fulfill a promise to a grieving mother who lost her son to an online gambling syndicate. The digital casino is run by aloof IT genius Chang Dong-cheol (Lee Dong-hwi), who often employs the ruthless hitman Baek Chang-gi (Kim Moo-yul) to settle scores. The impatient Baek, however, is tiring of Chang: Despite promises of a big day through a hairbrained crypto scheme, the IT guy has held out on his best goon. On the flipside, Ma and his team struggle to find Chang and his outlaws, causing, after many dead ends, Ma to be removed from the case before begging to be put back on. 

“Punishment” is an efficiently constructed film that quickly moves from set piece to piece. South Korean action cinema has this kind of genre picture down to a science, and “The Roundup” is the best among them. Ma is the kind of cop that probably wouldn’t play on network television, he gleefully shakes down criminals and tortures witnesses. Still, he possesses a heart of gold: He often gives the young girl at the local Korean BBQ joint a few extra dollars. There are elements of other action films here: A rip-roaring bathroom fight stands as an homage to “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and the film’s comedic character is clearly a nod to Joe Pesci in the “Lethal Weapon” series. This is also a far more violent film than previous installments that culminates in a scuffle on an airplane that leads to Ma’s most gruesome hit yet. It lands so hard, it punches viewers into the franchise’s inevitable next installment. 

Of film’s many genres, the coming-of-age story might be the most exciting contemporary play. Much of that has arisen because more filmmakers from diverse backgrounds are getting to tell new culturally specific stories. With a script co-written with Helen Simmons, writer/director Sasha Nathwani’s debut feature and winner of the Crystal Bear, “Last Swim,” is a sincere and vital picture that is uniquely derived and brimming with young love and strong friendships. Ziba (Deba Hekmat) is the smartest girl in her school. With dreams of studying astrophysicists nearly assured, the Iranian-British student appears to have it all. Except, on this day, the last day of school, she has decided to do a big hangout in anticipation of a rare meteor shower that will culminate with Ziba taking her life. As the film progresses we come to understand why Ziba is depressed: She’s been battling a deadly, debilitating health problem that may actually derail school. For Ziba, that thought is too much to bear. 

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