Friday, July 17, 2015

Film Review: Gangnam Blues (2015)

Gangnam Blues (aka Gangnam 1970) (Review)
Yoo Ha/Lee Min-ho/2015
Where To Watch:
Netflix Instant
Amazon Prime

"...ambitious, epic, and entertaining."

In the 1970s, Gangnam is targeted by corrupt politicians and gangsters as a future development area. Caught in the crossfire, penniless childhood friends Jong-dae (Lee Min-ho) and Yong-ki (Kim Rae-won) find a golden opportunity...

Gangnam Blues follows Jong-dae and Yong-ki. When their shanty in Gangnam is demolished, Jong-dae and Yong-ki are recruited by Gil-soo (Jung Jin-young), a local gang boss, for a political skirmish. In the process, Jong-dae and Yong-ki are separated. Three years later, Jong-dae finds himself living an honest life with Gil-soo, now retired, and his daughter. Meanwhile, Yong-ki has joined a powerful criminal organization involved in high-stakes, corrupt real estate. Both striving for more, Jong-dae seeks to recreate Gil-soo's gang, while Yong-ki seeks to rise up. The film has a memorable climax – if you know Yoo Ha, you know the type of brawl to expect. The ending is also great.

Gangnam Blues is a great gangster film with a few notable flaws Рand some nitpicks, I suppose. The film starts off a bit rough, especially since it rapidly introduces so many characters Рyou'll not only have to keep track of Jong-dae and Yong-ki, but a plethora of political figures, gang bosses, and complex schemes Рit's a lot to take in. It's not very efficient to begin with, but eventually it transitions to a smooth and satisfying ride. Secondly, I wish there was more development between Jong-dae and Yong-ki. During the introduction, we get the gist of how they live and who they are, but not much for their relationship. Instead of thoroughly developing this connection, the film opts for some brief discussions about the past and a clich̩ flashback.

Despite these issues, I wouldn't consider Gangnam Blues a bad film – not at all. Although there are some efficiency and character issues, Gangnam Blues works very well as a gangster film. It develops a strong sense of corruption, loyalty, and betrayal. It's almost an ominous-vibe where you're just waiting for the next snake to strike – and they strike often. Furthermore, it efficiently uses the rise-and-fall formula with a myriad of shifts in power. This, when mixed together, creates an effective, engaging, and entertaining film. Of course, you can't forget about the grizzly, finely-executed action sequences. Yoo Ha certainly knows how to capture these brutal, large-scale brawls. Also, I am a bit forgiving towards the complex introduction I complained about earlier. Looking back, this plot – the sheer scale – is much more intricate and ambitious, and, like I said, the pay off is strong.

Lee Min-ho is a strong leading man. Kim Rae-won is also great. The supporting cast is also strong. I didn't have any quarrels with the acting. However, I didn't really feel the same intimidation I felt from Ha Jung-woo or the same slither from Choi Min-sik in Nameless Gangster. Although I felt the acting was more than serviceable, I felt the gangster essence was more style than substance – then again, this may be more a nitpick. Regardless, this may be a simple case where “I've seen better” applies – this doesn't make this cast bad, at all, which I must stress. Otherwise, the film looks fantastic and the music is splendid. The film oozes with gangster-noir style. The fight choreography, although a little over-the-top, is superb. (It's a film, anyway, don't expect 100% realism.) Writer and director Yoo Ha crafts a gangster epic. There are some shortcomings on the character and some minor efficiency issues, but the film is otherwise ambitious, epic, and entertaining. Looking forward to seeing more from Yoo Ha.

Overall, Gangnam Blues is a great gangster-action film. There are a few minor issues scattered throughout, but the film ultimately overcomes them to deliver a grand gangster epic. It's certainly ambitious in its scale and incredibly stylish in its direction. The film is bolstered by a lively cast, superb cinematography and music, and incredible action sequences. If you can stick through some of the less efficient scenes, you'll be treated to a splendid tale of political corruption, betrayal, and loyalty.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, graphic sex and nudity.

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