Posted in *Recommended, Fantasia 2015, Fantasia International Film Festival, Film Festivals, Reviews, Trailers, Video

Gangnam Blues Fantasia 2015 review [Recommended]

gangnam-bluesGangnam Blues / 강남 1970 / Gangnam 1970 (2015)
Director: Yoo Ha
Screenplay: Yoo Ha
Cast: Lee Min-ho, Kim Rae-won, Jung Jin-young, Kim Ji-soo, Kim Seol-hyun

This is a sprawling crime story that centers around two childhood friends, Jong Dae and Yung Gi who are both orphans. After the house they are squatting in gets demolished while they’re still inside, they get recruited by a gangster to disrupt a political meeting. However a large fight ensues with other gangsters and in the confusion the friends are separated. Years later, Yung Gi is working for another gang while Jong Dae has been adopted by a former gang boss, Gil Su who runs a laundromat with his daughter. Jong Dae eventually gets involved in gang activities related to real estate and scamming farmers out of their land in an attempt to save enough money to pay off Gil Su’s debt. Jong Dae and Yung Gi do eventually reunite and decide to cooperate to attain a better life.

There are several plot lines and many characters in the story that are constantly scheming and it can be challenging to get everybody’s role memorized. As a viewer, I was able to mostly pick things up as it went along but certainly a second viewing is needed to get a clearer idea of the different characters, particular the politicians and gang bosses. In this respect, the film could’ve done a better job establishing their roles more clearly. The important roles of Jong Dae, Yung Gi and Gil Su are pretty clear and they are all very interesting to watch as they all end up in difficult situations where allegiances are tested. When somebody gets killed, the reason is clear. The acting is very good and Lee Min Ho as Jong Dae manages to be convincing as a gangster despite his well known popularity as a romantic and handsome lead in flower boy type roles. While there is some female nudity and sex, Jong Dae is not involved with any of those scenes (although apparently his sex scene was cut from the film).

There are a fair amount of fights ranging from bare fisticuffs to weapons like knives, axes pipes and whatever happens to be lying around. The final fight is an impressive brawl in the mud involving maybe 50 or even 100 gangsters as it rains. It’s a dirty and brutal affair. Lots of scenes take place at night in dark back alleys or poorly lit rooms where plans are made or betrayals occur which are contrasted with the bright countryside which represents hope and opportunity. There’s also nice use of music, which sounds evocative of the 1970s. I suspect that there will be more to appreciate with repeated viewings. Despite some familiar elements, the film manages to be an engaging crime epic and gets a recommendation from me.

Seen on a screener at Fantasia 2015

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Author:

Longtime fan of East Asian films. Former "movie reporter" on the music radio show / podcast "Beats From The East" broadcasted on Concordia University's CJLO 1690AM radio station in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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