I was reading an article The Flipside of Realism: Analysing the attraction of comedic representations of gangster culture in contemporary South Korean cinema published by my RBC Film Club associate Connor McMorran (follow link Jopok Week Modern Korean Cinema) He starts his article by telling us that Gangster comedies are undoubtedly a popular genre in South Korea and goes on to explain that this type of film is very popular during Korean national holidays. In South Korea they do not celebrate Christmas but they do celebrate Thanks Giving Day or New Years Day and it’s at this time that this genre is at its most lucrative, at least they’re spared the sort of seasonal trash that we are subjected too.
I decided to sample one of my young colleague’s recommendations: No. 3 (1997). Tae-ju (Han Suk-kyu) has been a gangster for 15 years, an expert with a knife and a man with ambition, working his way up to the number three in the Dogang Family. He’s determined to become number one by studying foreign languages, in preparation for an Asian wide crime syndicate, and carrying out his bosses every bidding. But things are no going Tae-ju’s way, Jae-chul (Park Sang-myeon), the organisation’s simple minded number two who resolves problems with a large glass ashtray, is not happy about relinquishing his rank and the local Public Prosecutor (Choi Min-sik) is trying to lock up the gang members and especially our ambitious number three.
|Jo-pil (Song Kang-ho)|
Written and directed by Song Neung-han, whose debut feature film this is, it’s story is not always easy to keep abreast of and at times can be a little confusing, although the set pieces are tremendous, particularly the last segment ‘Chaos’ when all hell brakes loose between Korean and Japanese gangsters, a rival gang led by Jo-pil (Song Kang-ho probably Korea’s best known actor) and to top it all the police show up intent on arresting everyone. The movie boasts strong characters and aggressive cinematography, making great use of dynamic wide angles, shots from above and with hand held cameras allowing for a great deal of the filming to take place on location. This style of film is more of a satire or at most a black comedy, which replicates modern Korean society rather than straightforward laugh out load entertainment, but to be fair the comedy probably does not translate well. Conner uses the example of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) as a British film of the gangster/comedy genre but I guess that the cockney humour might not translate well for a Korean audience either. But I must say that No. 3 was a very enjoyable and exciting watch and that’s the most important thing.
|Tae-ju (Han Suk-kyu) does his Bosses bidding.|