South Korean films have a huge market in India. However, that market is divided into two distinct segments. While one segment comprises of viewers like me who are into dark and gritty fares like “Oldboy”, “I Saw the Devil”, “Memoirs of A Murder” and “Swiri”, the other segment is made up of mostly girls who are hooked by the overly dramatic and sometimes “so sweet that it will induce blood sugar” kind of romantic fares like “Seducing Mr. Perfect”, “A Moment To Remember” and “100 Days With Mr. Arrogant”.
Gangnam Blues is a film that falls somewhere between these two segments. If romantic Korean films were a religion, Min-Ho Lee would be a god for all the drooling girls. Atleast that’s what I learned from the numerous online videos and contents showing his tremendous fan following. Having him in an otherwise serious film with bits and pieces of tender moments only helped transcend the line between the two segments of the South Korean films catering to the Indian masses.
Gangnam Blues is essentially a story of two brothers, Jong-Dae (Min-Ho Lee) and Yong-Ki (Rae-Won Kim), who are basically rag pickers. By a stroke of luck, they end up in two seemingly rival gangs and grow up with their own separate inclinations. While Jong-Dae is concerned and dedicated to bringing happiness and peace to the man who brought him up and would not mind doing some dirty work for it, Yong- Ki is driven by mad ambitions and would go to any lengths to achieve what he believes he should own. The story of the rise of these two brothers through the ranks in the Korean Mafia unfolds in the backdrop of the development of the Gangnam City and the ensuing politics that propelled large-scale gang wars and unprecedented corruptions.
Let’s start off with the positives of the film. Gangnam Blues is a serious and gritty take on an interesting period of history that is recreated with penchant and care. The amount of attention that is paid to the details is visible and that goes a long way into making the film visually appealing. While making a film of this nature, it is very easy for the director to go overboard especially with the visuals. But Ho Yoo sticks to the era and the aesthetics of the time to the‘t’ re-creating the mood and feel of the times with aplomb. The film also boasts of some mesmerizing cinematography that is dripping with lush colors and imaginative presentation.
The film boasts of some terrific action set pieces. There are atleast two large-scale fights which are choreographed with such panache that they will make you stand up and take notice. I loved the fight just before the finale in the graveyard which nearly gave me the same sort of feeling that I got watching Liam Neeson and Daniel Day-Lewis fight it out in the opening sequence of “Gangs of New York”. Another great action sequence is the one in a club wherein Jong- Dae wipes out a whole gang with the enchanting “Anak” playing in the background. It has to be said that the track does add considerably to the moves of Min-Ho Lee which by the way are in no way inferior.
Min-Ho Lee, being the heartthrob that he is, plays his character with unprecedented restraint and yet oozes with his trademark boyish charm. He plays his character subtly but lashes out in the sequences with great physicality when he has to. He strikes a perfect balance between the many facets of his character and excels in almost each and every one of them. His sequences with Rae-Won Kim are the best and most attractive in his whole act simply because of the duality that the two characters have to put up with. These sequences bring out the best from him also considering the fact that both the characters run through quite an arch through the narrative. Rae-Won Kim has a role which is not as straightforward as that of Min-Ho Lee and hence he gets a better crack at grabbing your attention as far as the characters are concerned. He does exceedingly well. I like him best when he is evil even though it would have paid to have him be a little stronger character-wise. The rest of the cast do their bits.
Having said all that, I still have some major issues with the film.
- This is a film that is so overpopulated with characters and subplots that it is really difficult to remember each and every one of them and their respective parts in the story. I watched this film twice and I can’t say for sure that I got it completely.
- The film will cater to mostly those who are able to grasp the socio-economic atmosphere that the story unfolds in. without some knowledge of the background, it is bound to get boring and unintelligible at many junctures.
- The film unfolds at a snail’s pace and the runtime of over 2 hours 15 minutes can be a killer if you are not soaked into the narrative or are obsessing over Min-Ho Lee, which I wasn’t. It was atleast 15 minutes too long.
- I also found that there was very little urgency about the tough situations among the characters and they practically sleepwalked through many of these situations which were not in the best interest of the film.
- Some characters in the film are written very weakly and they really hamper the overall feel of the narrative.
- I also had some issue here and there with the editing. The film jumps from one subplot to another in haphazard manners leading to the viewer getting confused or even losing interest in some of the part. Even though the editing was spot on in the action sequences, the same cannot be said about the overall screenplay and pacing of the film.
- Last but not the least, the story could have had a little bit more meat and should have had a few more surprises here and there. After sitting through 2 hours and 15 minutes of an exhaustive history of violence, you don’t come out fully satisfied. Suffice is to say that it lacks the entertainment value that it could have easily had had the director thought a little more about the story.
Overall, Gangnam Blues could have been an instant classic but falls short of the mark because of the points mentioned above. It is still a very watchable film that is bolstered by good performances from its leading pair, great visuals, superb music, exhilarating action and an almost interesting story. However, for Min-Ho Lee fans, this is a must watch.
Rating 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)