In this edition of K-Movie Corner, I’m gonna present to you Gangnam—nope, not Style by Psy but Blues—Gangnam Blues, which depicts the fictionalized history of how the now famous district of Seoul developed from just a piece of farmland in the 70s against the backdrop of several socio-political issues in that era.
Gangnam Blues, released as Gangnam 1970 in Korea in 2015, marks Lee Min-ho’s first ever leading role in a movie, which is proven to be worth it as it enabled our favorite chaebol pretty boy to showcase a different side of his acting. His co-lead star Kim Rae-won also gave an impressive acting performance in this film, proving the expertise that he has honed during the many years that he has spent in the business. Despite this, I still have to give the full recognition to Lee Min-ho, who definitely shone brighter in the intense emotional scenes. His strong acting delivery earned him a Best New Actor trophy at the 52nd Grand Bell Awards, and a nomination for the same category at the 51st Baeksang Arts Awards.
Gangnam Blues also signals director Yoo Ha’s return to the gangster film genre, and serves as the final installment to his “street trilogy” together with Once Upon a Time in High School (2004) and A Dirty Carnival (2006). Yoo Ha once again proved his craftsmanship by bringing to life yet another fantastic gangster movie that is violent and brutal, but is also intensely emotional at the same time. Here are the four scenes from the movie that left tiny yet permanent dents in my heart:
The film bravely tackled the sad truth about social classes and the rampant corruption in the government. While the poor works like dogs just to get by, the rich and the powerful connive to become even richer and more powerful.
Let me give you a little backgrounder about the movie plot. It revolves around two struggling orphaned 20 somethings, Jong-dae (Lee Min-ho) and Yong-gi (Kim Rae-won), who try to make ends meet by picking up whatever they could sell from the streets. Their lives took a huge turn when they got separated at the height of a political riot they got involved in. They got reunited three years later, but as two different individuals already—Yong-gi as a made man inside Seoul’s most powerful criminal organization, and Jong-dae as an adopted son of former gang leader Baek Gil-soo (Jung Jin-young). Jong-dae later on became a member of a different gang—a setup that put his and Yong-gi’s brotherly bond to test.
Losing someone dear is the most painful thing in the world. Lee Min-ho’s silent cry when he saw his name listed as son on his adoptive family’s registration paper after his stepfather’s burial hit my heart bull’s eye. But did you know?
Fun fact: Director Yoo Ha first hesitated in casting Lee Min-ho for the movie because he looks “so handsome he is almost like a manhwa character,” but he got later on convinced by his wife. This move is proven to be a good one because aside from Lee Min ho’s impeccable acting, his immense popularity also greatly contributed to the movie’s commercial success. It earned $5.5 million on its opening weekend in Korea despite having a “restricted” rating.
But what made the loss of a loved one even more painful is the discovery that he died in the hands of the person you trust the most. I consider Lee Min-ho and Kim Rae-won’s confrontation scene as one of this movie’s highlights.
Fun fact: Another must-see from the film is Kim Rae-won’s brief yet very intense sex scene. Hee-hee.
Fun fact: Lee Min-ho also filmed a sex scene with actress Kim Ji-soo for this movie, but it was excluded as director Yoo Ha deemed it as unnecessary to the story development. Awww, what a shame.
Fun fact: Yoo Ha is also the director of the 2008 erotic period film A Frozen Flower that starred Jo In-sung, Joo Jin-mo, and Song Ji-hyo. Woah, I now declare myself as a fan of this PD-nim!
The ending scene where Lee Min-ho and Kim Rae-won’s characters met their deaths while the rich and the powerful merry is so haunting. The camera shots worked wonders and gave it more weight, which is clearly one of the reasons why the movie earned a Technical Award nomination at the 36th Blue Dragon Film Awards. Everything on the technical side—from the camera shots to wardrobe to locations to soundtrack to fight scene choreography to lighting and color—is meticulously done.
Fun fact: The song Anak by Filipino folk singer Freddie Aguilar is used as background music for several scenes of this movie, while a Korean version of the song is used in the trailer. Being a Filipino myself, I find it weird and amusing at the same time!
Just because I am all praises for this gangster flick does not mean it is not without flaws. It has! One is that there were too many characters introduced to the point that viewers would be confused, but that can be overlooked. Another is the storyline that is a little too generic and predictable, but was saved by director Yoo Ha’s expert execution.
Final verdict: Violent. Brutal. Emotional. 3.5/5
~All the credit for the videos/stills used in this review goes to m.o.vera Pictures and Showbox/Mediaplex.