Sunday, July 17, 2011

My two favorite Korean movies.

     Out of the 200+ Korean movies I have watched since 2005, I have to rate these as my picks for the #1 position.

Attack the Gas Station! (1999)

DVD Front

DVD Back

     Attack the Gas Station! was one of the very first Korean movies I watched, almost exactly 6 years ago. It has an original story (not a remake of anything), the actors are risible, and it gets better with each viewing. Some of the actors in this movie have gone on to star in many more films, and some have previously starred in many films. Who attacks the gas station?
     These are the four ragtags on the DVD front above:

     1. 이성재 (Lee Seong-Jae) He's standing third from the left, in the front. He plays the leader of the gang and has starred in several other K-movies I like:
     2. 유오성 (Yoo Oh-Seung) He's the one holding the stick and plays the enforcer of the gang; he does the heavy beating, when necessary. The only other movie I've seen him in that I liked was Friend (2001). He also starred in several movies before this, and I've seen one of them and it was horrible: Terrorist (1995).

     3. 강성진 (Kang Seong-Jin) He is standing on the far right in the image above and plays a crazy guy addicted to music. If he doesn't hear music, then he'll start smashing things and beating people. This actor is one of my favorite comedians in Korean cinema. I also like him in the following movies:
     4. 유지태 (Yoo Ji-Tae) He's jumping on the far left in the image above and plays a fairly taciturn role, only deigning to make a ruckus when he sees complicated words. He spends most of the time making nude art. He's also the most well-known of the four hoodlums. I have enjoyed his acting ability in these other Korean movies:
     Who else is in this movie? These are the big three. (I don't know how to extract their images from the DVD.)

      1. 유해진 (Yoo Hae-Jin) He plays the leader of a competing gang of thugs that collects money from one of the gas station employees. Yoo Hae-Jin has been in many Korean movies that I have enjoyed.
     2. 김수로 (Kim Soo-Ro) He plays the leader of the motorcycle gang and initially meets the ragtag four when they order out for Chinese food, as he is the delivery driver. I have enjoyed his antics in these other movies:
     I also want to mention that Kim Soo-Ro played a small role in Taegukgi (2004). His role was near the end of the movie, where he had suspected communists kneel down in front of pits, to prepare for execution. It felt strange to see him playing such an evil character, after having seen so many of his comedic roles.

     3. 김응수 (Kim Eung-Soo) This man has been in every Korean movie. There must've been a time when I once randomly selected a few movies to watch and he appeared in each one. In Attack the Gas Station!, he plays the role of one of the two police officers you first see, and yells at Kang Seong-Jin for drinking a can of Pepsi. He usually plays a bad guy in movies; someone that yells a lot and becomes angry easily. It's rare to see him do anything nice and I've never seen him with a leading role.

     I lent Attack the Gas Station! to a co-worker and while he didn't care for it, he stated his cousin loved it; it was the funniest thing he had ever seen. My parents were able to tolerate it and I can't even get my friends to watch it. Some people just can't handle subtitles. Another thing I want to mention is the soundtrack. Occasionally, Korean movies will use music from video games. I heard music from Guilty Gear XX Reload during some action scenes in My Wife is a Gangster 3 and music from Outrun in Chilsu and Mansu. From what game did this movie borrow music from? G-Darius. At the very beginning, when they are preparing to raid the gas station, you can hear the beginning of the song G Zero #2 (track 1 on the arrange album). The rest of the music is pretty good and I would like to have the soundtrack, but it's OOP in Korea and quite expensive. My only complaint about the Attack the Gas Station! DVD is that the image is not anamorphic. It looks great on a standard 4:3 set and there is no way to fix the image on a 16:9 set without losing some of the image, unless you put the TV in 4:3 mode.

     A Dirty Carnival took me several viewings to comprehend. This is what you need to know:

     1. Gun control laws are very strict in South Korea.
     2. Gangsters that use guns are regarded as sissies.
     3. Gangsters need sponsors. A sponsor is a semi-legitimate businessman that needs someone to carry out his illegal activities.

     I had wondered about the paucity of guns and why the gangsters needed sponsors so badly. Once those basic things are understood, then this movie makes a lot more sense. It is very much unlike your typical gangster movie, involving the Mafia or the Yakuza. These gangsters have to fight and coerce people with knives and bats; they are thugs in suits. Have you seen 28 Weeks Later? Do you remember that horrifically cold scene at the very beginning, when the man left his wife behind? This movie is like that scene. It is cold, it ends cold, and it leaves a cold feeling. This is a hard hitting movie that doesn't use violence in the most extreme sense, such as that used in I Saw the Devil, but it effectively skewers any hope of happiness in your heart. 
     By the time I had watched this movie, I was far more familiar with Korean cinema and the actors involved, so this was quite dissimilar to Attack the Gas Station!, on many levels. I do want to mention that the director, Yu Ha, is one of my favorites. I also greatly enjoyed Marriage is a Crazy Thing and A Frozen Flower.

     In summary, my two favorite Korean movies are opposites. One is happy and the other is cold. This was not done on purpose. 

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