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  Friend  
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Four friends you'll likely not forget in Kwak Kyung-taek's Friend.
 
  Korean: 친구
  Year: 2001    
  Director: Kwak Kyung-taek    
  Cast: Yoo Oh-sung, Jang Dong-gun, Suh Tae-hwa, Jung Woon-taek, Kim Bo-kyung, Joo hyun, Ki Joo-bong, Lee Jae-yong  
The Skinny: Kwak Kyung-taek's semi-autobiographical tale of friendship is a beautiful, nostalgic film. The hype might drive you away, but thanks to some excellent performances, a top notch production, and Kwak's skill in realistically recreating a bygone era, you can't go wrong. Eight million Koreans thought the same, as Friend has become the country's all time top-grossing film.
   
Review
by LunaSea:

2001 was an incredible year for Korean Cinema, both critically and financially. While films like Nabi, Flower Island, Failan, Take Care of My Cat and One Fine Spring Day were getting local and international acclaim, a string of commercial blockbusters destroyed every box office record. The most successful Korean film of all time is Friend, a simple tale of four friends who grow up on separate paths, with tragic consequences. How is Friend different from countless other similar films? Well, it's a true story and a subject that concerns the director, and for once this fact wasn't used as an excuse to justify emotional manipulation. Though Friend doesn't completely take advantage of such an interesting premise, honesty and nostalgia make the film memorable.

Four friends grow up in the Pusan of the mid seventies. As you can expect, their personalities are much different. Jung-sook (Yoo Oh-sung) is the son of a Jopok Boss. He's the toughest, most charismatic of the group. Dong-su's (Jang Dong-gun) father is an undertaker. He suffers from an inferiority complex, and subsequently imposes his will on others to compensate for his insecurities. He becomes Jung-sook's right hand man in their little school gang, and even though they're good friends, there's always tension in the air whenever they're alone. Joong-ho (Jung Woon-taek) is the clown, and Sang-taek (Suh Tae-hwa) is the model student. We see the friends grow together though various idyllic scenes. They start to become interested in women thanks to Playboy magazines and imported Japanese pinku eiga (erotic films). They also see their first video recorder, a blocky Betamax player that seems like something from another planet.

The film follows the events that will lead the group to break, for many different reasons. While Sang-taek and Jung-ho continue their studies in college, Dong-su and Jung-sook drop out of school and join local gangs. The catch is, they're on different sides now. And you know what that means. The film is divided in two parts, an excellent coming-of-age drama that slowly evolves into a more conventional Jopok flick. What keeps everything together is the director's honesty in depicting the characters' changes. We start to feel sympathy for the characters, because for good or bad, they're people we've known, or are similar to us. Their trials are something we all experience sooner or later, although rarely with such disastrous consequences.

While the first half of the film is remarkable, in both the recreation of seventies Pusan and the character development, the second half begins to stutter once the action kicks in. Plot developments become a little too lazy, and the film focuses too much on the love/hate relationship between Dong-su and Jung-sook, almost kicking the other two out of the film. It's a flaw that hurts the film a bit, but at least the director never falls in the trap of using manipulative scenes to remedy a weak plot.

What really makes the film stronger are the performances. Yoo Oh-sung and Jang Dong-gun are excellent, and this film marks a coming-of-age for both. Jang, already popular thanks to romantic comedies (such as the forgettable Repechage and Holiday in Seoul, and the guilty pleasure Love Wind, Love Song), is able to give strength to Dong-su's ever changing mood. For Yoo, a cult favorite from many excellent comedies (Attack The Gas Station, The Spy Lee Chul-jin) as well as the drama Spring in My Hometown, this is his best performance to date, showing impressive range and great charisma. Jung Woon-taek displays his talent for comedy, which he was able to exploit with his hilarious performance in My Boss, My Hero. Suh Tae-hwa is Suh Tae-hwa. His bland, monotone style of acting is appropriate for a shy character like Sang-taek.

The film also features great cinematography, and a beautiful, nostalgic score. After its monstrous success the film experienced some negative word-of-mouth, which was generated mostly by its hype. Still, don't let yourself get caught up in the backlash; this is a very good film. It beautifully recreates the past while offering themes that everybody can relate to in some way. Both Kwak and Yoo went on to better things a year later when they re-teamed in the excellent Champion. Jang is now bigger than ever with his successful turn in 2009 Lost Memories, and Korean Cinema has changed in the eyes of international observers thanks to this film's performance. That's pretty good for such a simple film, don't you think? (LunaSea 2002)

 
   
Notes: • There's a scene in both Failan and Friend which seems exactly the same. Both scenes are panning crane shots that start from a famous balcony in Pusan, and end up showing the port. Deja vu?
 
Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
enterOne
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
DTS 5.1 / Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English & Korean Subtitles
Trailer
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
 
   
image courtesy of www.jangdonggun.pe.kr
 
   
 
 
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