Magazine article Screen International

Gangnam Blues

Magazine article Screen International

Gangnam Blues

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Yoo Ha. South Korea. 2015. 135mins

Marking something of a return to form, Yoo Ha's gangster film about two close friends who get separated and join different gangs is set against a fascinating backdrop as one of Seoul's most affluent districts Gangnam - now famous following Psy's hit single Gangnam Style - is being drawn out amidst much corruption in the real estate market during the 1970s.

On a technical level, this is Yoo's most accomplished film to date with a number of outstanding set-pieces using an array of camera angles and locations while masterfully exploiting lighting, colour and choreography giving it a rich noir touch.

At times, its scope is perhaps overly ambitious inevitably making it heavy going for some. However, much like Yoo's classic A Dirty Carnival, this film is set to stand the test of time owing to Yoo's captivating craftsmanship that will demand subsequent viewings. Beautifully shot and choreographed it captures the era in glorious fashion - also aided by an excellent 1970s soundtrack that includes Filipino folk-singer Freddie Aguilar's song Anak that was released in the late '70s.

Locally, the film took a respectable $5.5 million for an R or 18 rated film on its opening weekend (Jan 23-25) and has currently accumulated $8.3 million since its release on January 21. This is likely to be attributed to a number of factors including the casting of superstar Lee Min-ho alongside Kim Rae-won together with its compelling backdrop, which is part of an ongoing trend in Korean films, television and music to go back in time.

Going forward, its success will depend on how viewers react to its dark tone. Internationally, meanwhile, Lee Min-ho's starring presence will be its strongest selling point, especially in Asia where he's immensely popular, while fans of Yoo and Korean gangster films will also be intrigued by this bold and stylistic feature as it hits various territories in the coming days and weeks.

The film's two central characters are childhood friends Jong-dae (Lee Min-ho) and Yong-gi (Kim Rae-won) who struggle as orphans to make ends meet. They are then separated once they get involved in a political skirmish after their shanty home is demolished. Three years later, Yong-gi is now working in a criminal organisation, the Myeongdong-pa while Jong-dae is still living with a former gang leader Kil-su (Jung Jin-young) and his daughter Seon-hye (Kim Seol-hyun), but also ends up in another gang after Kil-su is unable to repay his debt, and seeks to help and find another way of earning money. …

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