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Green Fish
|     review    |     notes     |     availability     |

Han Suk-kyu
  Year: 1997  
  Director: Lee Chang-dong  
  Cast: Han Suk-kyu, Moon Sung-keun, Shim Hye-jin, Oh Ji-hye, Han Sun-gyu, Song Kang-ho, Jung Jin-young, Myung Kye-nam  
  The Skinny: Han Suk-kyu seems to have the Midas Touch. Everything he appears in is either financially successful (Shiri, Tell Me Something, The Gingko Bed, Dr. Bong), critically acclaimed (Green Fish, No. 3), or both (Christmas in August, The Contact). He gives a fantastic performance in director Lee Chan-dong's debut film, one of the most impressive works to come out of Korea in the nineties.  
Review
by LunaSea:
     Korean gangster films were never too different from those you could see anywhere else. They often embellished the lives of the gangsters (Kangpae), and made the violence stylish and unrealistic. A film like Green Fish is a shock to the system for being so honest and intelligent in its depiction of crime. It also comments on the growing urbanization of Korea, and the consequences it brought on people not used to it.
     Mak-dong (Han Suk-kyu) is back from the military after the obligatory two years leave. Home is not what he expects though, he finds Ilsan (a "satellite city" of Seoul, which in the past was mostly agricultural land) full of high-rise buildings. Everybody has gone to Seoul trying to make ends meet. His family is more dysfunctional than ever, and he doesn't know what to do to solve things. Something he instantly becomes a part of is violence. The streets aren't safe anymore, and he gets beat up more than once by a group of thugs. It's a new world for him, and one that leaves him impressionable and helpless.
      He gains respect for Bae Tae-gon (Moon Sung-keun), a Big Brother who welcomes him into the "family" thanks to his girlfriend (Shim Hye-jin), who met Mak-dong on his journey home. In Tae-gon, Mak-dong sees family values, respect and tradition, and oblivious to the consequences, Mak-dong enters the world of organized crime (or JoPok). His dream is having a happy family and owning a restaurant, and crime could be a quick way to make the requisite money. Mak-dong's purity and naiveté gain him the trust of the Boss, but when he asks Mak-dong to kill a rival gang's leader, the consequences of his decisions start to become a painful reality for him.
     Director Lee Chang-dong, a former successful novelist and scriptwriter (see notes), pieces together social commentary, genre criticism and an involving story seamlessly. Mak-dong gets involved in crime because he has nowhere else to go to make money, and that's a result of the urban assimilation of the big cities ("Seoul-ization," as Lee calls it) which leaves out the poorest people. Mak-dong isn't lured to the criminal life by the prospect of a cool life, fast cars or beautiful women. He's just a normal man whose life has been changed forever by events he wasn't prepared for.
     Lee Chang-dong uses a decidedly slow pace, and he's rather understated in presenting the often shocking events. He's not trying to manipulate us with extreme violence or sappy melodrama. His characters are portrayed with honesty and realism, and they're not necessarily sympathetic. Lee creates a background, both social and economical, for the characters, and he even explores Mak-dong's family connections effectively. Too many gangster films take those things for granted; they're more concerned with the thrill of guns, car chases and bad haircuts. Green Fish is incredibly moving (a phone call home towards the end stands out), and explores painful realities without being too heavy handed. A dreaded and often overused word is necessary here, and personally it's the only one with which I can classify this movie: masterpiece. (LunaSea 2002)
 
Notes: • Lee Chang-dong's novel "There's a lot of shit in Nokcheon" earned him the 25th Hankook Ilbo BaekSang Prize. It's more or less Korea's Pulitzer Prize, handed out by Korea's largest newspaper Hankook Ilbo to the best books of the year in liberal arts, human & social sciences, and natural sciences. Lee's scripts include Park Kwang-soo's To The Starry Island and A Single Spark, both of which are among the most important works of the early nineties.
• Lee was one of the predominant figures in the movement to keep the screen quota in Korea, trying to fight US government's attempts to use free trade treaties as an excuse to expand the reach of Hollywood movies.
 
Availability: DVD (Korea)
Region 0 NTSC
Spectrum DVD
Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Removable English Subtitles
 
    DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Universe Laser
Fullscreen
Korean Language Track
Removable English Subtitles
 
     
 

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