The gangster film is one that has made a global impact all over the world. From the Italian mafia and the Japanese Yakuza to the Hong Kong Triads, the gangster drama has had high points and its low points. As for the Korean gangster film, like their counterparts, they can range from exhilarating drama to mixing some goofy comedy.
As for Kwak Kyung-Taek’s semi-autobiographical tale, which was a box-office hit and turned lead actors Yoo Oh-Seung and Jang Dong-Gun into bonafide superstars, it is a wonderful tale of four friends whose lives are turned upside down when two of them become rivals in a gang war.
It is apparent from the beginning that the character of neutral party Sang-Taek is based on Kwak’s personal experiences. Sung-Taek and Joong-Ho have been friends with Dong-Su, the son of an undertaker, and Joon-Suk, the son of Busan’s Mafioso leader and founder. As young pre-teens, the four always went swimming or scamming other kids by selling pictures from dirty magazines. As they get older, the level of trouble increasingly grows as they find themselves constantly fighting. This affects Dong-Su, who has no interest of following in his father’s footsteps and wants something bigger. As for Joon-Suk, while he has reservations about becoming the next mafia leader, he realizes what his destiny is to be.
Joong-Ho and Sung-Taek from the United States after a few years and they have learned that their two best friends have become rival gangsters. However, despite the rivalry between the two, Sang-Taek and Joong-Ho remain loyal to their friends. The two especially help Joon-Suk when he finds himself addicted to drugs and Dong-Su while he is imprisoned. A misunderstanding and a hot-headed temper puts the once strong friendship at risk of being totally destroyed.
The performances from lead actors Yoo Oh-Seung, Jang Dong-Gun, Suh Tae-Hwa, and Jung Woo-Taek are so great because of their chemistry. While sometimes in films, chemistry seems forced between characters, these four show a flowing natural chemistry that drives the film in terms of the story.
While Suh’s Sang-Taek is the narrator of the story, the central point of the film is the unraveling broken friendship between Yoo’s Joon-Suk and Jang’s Dong-Su. Knowing what his destiny are to become, Joon-Suk takes things level-headed despite battling a drug addiction. However, Dong-Su, who has always yearned for something bigger, lets his new fame as a gangster get to his head and it is his hot-headed temper that could yield disasterous results, and it does.
Friend is a must see for fans of the gangster genre thanks to its intricate look at friendships both within and outside organized crime and the consequences of greed.
WFG RATING: A+
A Korea Pictures production in association with Cowell, Zemiro, and Simmani; Cineline II and JR Pictures. Director: Kwak Kyung-Taek. Producer: Suk Myung-Hong. Writer: Kwak Kyung-Taek. Cinematography: Hwang Gi-Seok. Editing: Park Gok-Ji.
Cast: Yoo Oh-Seung, Jang Dong-Gun, Sun Tae-Hwa, Jung Woon-Taek, Kim Bo-Kyung, Joo Hyun.