Starring: Jang Dong-Geon, Yu Oh-Seong, Seo Tae-Hwa
Director: Gwak Gyeong-Taek
Studio: Enter One
Rating: 18 Up
About This DVD
The film opens with a group of youngsters running after a vehicle releasing clouds of insecticide. This was a common sight in the 70s in Korea. The kids loved the smell and would disappear in the clouds. The symbolism of this opening scene is clear. The children are curious about the world, but the world is full of poisonous experiences harmful to their minds and bodies. They breathe in the noxious poison like a breath of fresh air not knowing it's harmful effects. The powerful imagery is reinforced by the narrator's words: "Being thirteen-year-old adolescents in Pusan of 1976, for our innocent curiosity, the world had too much to tell us, all too much..." The theme of curiosity leading to harm resonates throughout the film.
The film opens in Pusan in 1976. Four boys have formed a friendship and are exploring the curiosities of the world together. There's Dong-su (Jang Dong-Geon), the only son of an undertaker; Jun-sok (Yu Oh-Seong), the son of a vigilante gang boss; Sang-taek (Seo Tae-Hwa) a diligent student; and Jung-ho (Jeong Wun-Taek), a smart aleck who can never keep his mouth shut. They watch pornographic films from America, read dirty magazines together, and become increasingly curious about women's bodies. They become enthralled with Bruce Lee and develop a growing fascination with violence.
The film then flashes forward to August of 1981. They are now high school sophomores and are about to embark on their separate paths. One day, Jung- ho drags the others along to see an all-girl band called `Rainbow' perform. Jung-ho falls for the pretty bassist, while Sang-teak takes an interest in the lead singer, Jin- suk (Kim Bo-Gyeong). A lover's triangle forms as Dong-su also begins to nurture a secret interest in Jin-suk.
Later, Jun-sok and Jin-suk come to live together. The others come to visit and find Jun-sok in the throws of heroin withdrawal. The others want to know why he hadn't invited them to his mother's funeral. In his delirium, he explains that his mother has been abandoned in the hospital for five years. She was completely neglected by his father. His father cared nothing for him and did not even give him any clothes.
Following his recovery, Jun-sok has a serious talk with Dong-su. He is worried that he is considering joining another gangster and tries to dissuade him: "I used to go home and no one would scold me," he confides. "That's why I'm the way I am now." The implication here is that Jun-sok doesn't find the path he has chosen particularly glamorous and wishes he could have avoided his destiny by having more discipline enforced at home.
Regarding Jun-suk as an older brother, Dong-su begins to resent being ordered around by his senior. Dong-su suffers from an inferiority complex. At one point, he confesses to being made fun of when he was young because the other children thought his lips were too pink for a boy. Feeling his manhood under threat, he decided to join the gang of four to avoid being labeled a sissy. The implication here is that it is the incidents of life that steer us in a certain direction, resentments, hurts, wounded pride, etc. Each of these things creates a chain of causes and effects that compel us to take certain appropriate action.
Dong-su becomes increasingly driven by a pathological desire to compensate for his early humiliations with a show of bravado. He becomes increasingly cruel and merciless. A certain animosity flairs up between he and his old friend, Jun- sok, as they enter into something of a turf war. Feeling betrayed, Jun-suk endeavors to patch things up between them, but realizes they are destined to be enemies. The meeting between them at Dong-su's place, where each attempts to stare the other down, is a gangster film classic. Even as enemies there is still a semblance of friendship between them.
The lyrical way in which Gwak Gyeong-Taek films the gang wars makes it a moving spectacle. The fact that there are no guns and only knives makes the deaths slower and more painful. Each death takes on Shakespearean proportions as you watch each character agonizingly trying to escape his injuries only to helplessly give in to death in the end. The slow, protracted death by a knife instead of a gun lends greater drama to the film and transports it from the realm of action films to the grandeur of the Shakespearean stage. When Dong-su ruthlessly plunges the knife into one of Jun-sok's men, mercilessly ripping through the man's stomach and plunging it into his heart, the victim's anguish is palpable. Eyes bulging, the victim choking and gagging, his body going limp under the force of the knife, the violence is made palpable. Not only is the violence cathartic, it has the effect of a Tarantino film: One feels revulsion for the acts of violence and a powerful sense of their inherent futility.
Friend is a unique blend, a coming-of-age story and gangster film combined. Like Peppermint Candy, it weaves nostalgia and tragedy together in a bittersweet trip down memory lane. The tragedy is only enhanced by the tale of the nurturing friendship formed between four boys. Friend is Nostalgia Noir, a new genre in filmmaking. Unlike the gangster films of Hong Kong and the West, which feature flying bullets and billowing trench coats, Friend is a uniquely Korean experience in noir. Strict gun control legislation is the Korean experience and this is reflected in the knife-wielding youths of this film. After three years of planning and two years of writing, a new genre in film noir has been born. Friend makes a memorable companion for those of us who regard classic filmmaking as a lived experience.
Writer/director Gwak Gyeong-Taek's director note is very candid. There is no pretension or sentimentality. He simply wants to tell the story of his friend's brutal life and his association with him in an honest way. He is even honest about their friendship, confessing that he has not always been there for his friend. It is refreshing to see an artist make such a frank and honest confession.
|Audio Format:||Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, DTS|
|Video Format:||Widescreen 1.85:1 (Anamorphic)|
|Languages:||Korean (Movie Dialogue), Korean II (Standard Language)|
|Running Time:||116 /178|
|Special Features:||*Disc 1
- Cast & Crew
- Audio Commentary 1: Director's Commentary
- Audio Commentary 2: Actor & Executive Producer's Commentary
- Audio Commentary 3:Cinematographer's Commentary
- Photo Gallary
- Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spot
* Disc 2
- Behind the Story
- Deleted Scenes
- Telecine : Comparison with Film Types
- Easter Eggs
- Trailer: Champion
Availability: No longer available