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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 4, 2015

Review: Gangnam Blues - Tagalized Version Of Korean Superstar Lee Min Ho's First Lead Role In A Full Length Film

LEE MIN HO is a Korean superstar who zoomed to fame with TV series like “Boys Over Flowers” and “City Hunter”. He has a huge international fan base. He now appears in his first lead role in a full length feature, “Gangnam Blues”, a gangster movie which was a big blockbuster when it was shown in his native Korea last January. The movie is written and directed by Yoo Ha, who has previously scored a hit in another gangster flick, “A Dirty Carnival”.

“Gangnam Blues” is set in the 1970s in Seoul’s southern district called Gangnam. The lead characters are two friends who grew up together like brothers in an orphanage, Jong-dae (Lee Min-ho) and Yong-gi (Kim Rae-won). They try to earn a living by being scavengers selling trash. Being very poor, they agree to work with a gang to earn more. They get separated while working for a group of thugs that break up a political convention.

They later on get to work for different gangs that are both involved in land buying deals in farmlands south of the Han River. This is what would become what is now known as the renowned Gangnam district immortalized in the international hit “Oppa Gangnam Style” by Psy. The friendship of childhood friends Jong-dae and Yong-ki is tested when they find themselves entangled in the power struggle between opposing political powers and criminal organizations. Jong-dae tries to live an honest life working with a former gang leader who chooses to lead a peaceful life putting up a laundry shop, while Yong-ki has joined Seoul's most powerful criminal organization, the MDP.

As a gangster, Yong-ki is involved in a high-stakes battle over land in Gangnam that aims to put up a secret presidential election fund. As the gangs fight over the rights to various plots of land, the peaceful Jong-dae eventually had no choice but to get mixed up with all the gang wars. This leads to a series of betrayals and double cross, culminating in a bloody free for all involving all the various gang members in a muddy cemetery while it’s raining very hard. Take note that all the violent encounters up to this point involve nothing but knives, sticks, axes and shovels. In the climactic finale where the two former friends finally face each other, they finally use guns.

Lee Min-ho is thoroughly convincing as a rising gangster with a cool exterior and emotional core, making his dominant fresh-faced presence felt in every scene. He’s better looking than his compatriot, Rain. We think he’s the most good looking Korean actor today, which is why he’s got lots of fans worldwide. Kim Rae-won (who looks like Lance Raymundo) also gives a laudable performance as the guy he calls Kuya.

The movie makes you of Freddie Aguilar’s “Anak”, which is very popular in Korea and was used twice in the film. All in all, “Gangnam Blues” is a riveting action-drama that pits the usual story of friendship and betrayal against a thrilling period setting mired in violence, chaos and corruption. It’s just off to a slow start and you’d wish it’s better edited to quicken the pacing. But it is lushly filmed with stunning cinematography, giving the film an epic sweep. This is now shown in SM Cinemas in Tagalized version, the first offering of the Sine Asia Theatre collaboration with Viva Entertainment. Don’t miss it as it’s even better than that Will Smith movie currently being shown, “Focus”, which is such a disappointment.