Review: GANGNAM BLUES 강남 1970 (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Review: GANGNAM BLUES 강남 1970 (2015)

GANGNAM BLUES is far from a definitive Martin Scorsese-style of gangster epic, but sufficient enough as an engaging 1970s gritty drama.

After making a brief detour exploring different genres in the erotically-charged period drama A FROZEN FLOWER (2008) and murder mystery HOWLING (2012), director Yoo Ha finally returns to the familiar gangster-movie territory that made him famous in the place. The result is GANGNAM BLUES, the third and final chapter of Yoo's "street trilogy" that begins with the award-winning ONCE UPON A TIME IN HIGH SCHOOL (2004) and the fan-favourite A DIRTY CARNIVAL (2006).


Set in the turbulent period of the '70s era, the movie centres on childhood friends Jong-Dae (Lee Min-Ho) and Yong-Gi (Kim Rae-Won) who are both orphans living in poverty. One day, the two orphans become homeless when their old shack in the shantytown is being bulldozed for redevelopment purpose. However, an opportunity came when they are recruited by a local gang, led by Kang Kil-Su (Jung Jin-Young), to help sabotage a political rally. Both Jong-Dae and Yong-Gi get separated amidst the chaos. Three years later, both Jong-Dae and Yong-Gi worked for the rival gangs with different agenda. They eventually cross path and find themselves caught in the middle of the gangland war involving a battle over land in Gangnam.

From the technical point-of-view, Yoo Ha proves he's a master of his craft when comes to deliver a visually-stunning motion picture. With the help of Kim Tae-Seong and Hong Seong-Hyuk's atmospheric cinematography as well as the subtle use of Freddie Aguilar's 70s classic folk song Anak, GANGNAM BLUES successfully captures the tone and period detail of that particular era. The action is well choreographed, with enough blood and brutality that doesn't skimp on the depiction of graphic violence.

On the surface level, Lee Min-Ho and Kim Rae-Won are both charismatic with their screen presences. But of all the cast here, it was veteran actor Jung Jin-Young who delivers the lasting impression playing a former gangster leader trying to earn an honest living as the owner of a small laundry shop.

The epic mud-drenched brawl between the rival gangs set in a rainy weather is undoubtedly the movie's biggest highlight.

At 135 minutes (and even with a number of explicit sex scenes butchered by the Malaysian censorship board), the movie tends to feel overlong in places. Yoo, who also penned the screenplay, left no clichés unturned with a hackneyed plot scattered all over the place. The plot also tries so hard to be complicated, but ended up looking more bloated than it should with all the heavy-handed elements of dirty politics and shady real-estate syndicate overlapped against each other.

Although Lee Min-Ho and Kim Rae-Won looks good playing sharply-dressed gangsters, their acting range feels mediocre at best. Even when the two characters finally reunite after three years since separation, and also eventually confront against each other under forced circumstances, there is little sense of strong character development as well as emotional tension between them. As for the female stars such as Kim Seol-Hyun and Lee Yeon-Doo, it's sad to see them relegated to thankless roles that concentrates more on their photogenic beauties than genuine acting talents.


GANGNAM BLUES is hardly Yoo's great comeback movie as I hoped for, but remains an above-average entertainment that delivers most of the genre's requirements for a gangster picture.

* This review is written courtesy from GSC press screening *

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