The final installment of director-screenwriter Ha Yoo’s “street series” trilogy (Once Upon a Time in High School and A Dirty Carnival the other two) entailed all the reasons to become a great film, both commercially and artistically. Elaborate story, based on actual sociopolitical conditions, a general theme that seems to produce constantly, masterpieces all over the world, a cast that combined popularity with accomplished acting, stylized cinematography, action, violence, sex and a little of melodrama and politics. However, in the end the result was disappointing, at least according to the initial expectations.
The film takes place in the ’70s, in the Gangnam district of Seoul, where two orphan friends, Jong Dae and Yong Gi try desperately to earn their living by selling whatever they manage to find in the streets, including trash. Nevertheless, the money they earn is not even enough to heat the building they live in, thus resulting into eventually taking a job from a local mobster, to join a mob whose purpose is to disrupt a political rally. However, during the fight that breaks out, the two friends are separated.
Three years later, they are working for different employers, both of which have the same goal, to buy land in the area south of Han river, that through the collaboration of corrupt politicians and the local mafia, would proceed on becoming the famous Gangnam district.
Ha Yoo is evidently influenced by the Hollywood gangster films of the ’80s and the Hong Kong triad movies, a fact that becomes obvious in a variety of themes and scenes. For example, the poor individuals who become high gangsters, a number of sociopathic characters, the constant treacheries and the ever-present showdown are all chief characteristics of the aforementioned films. However, Yoo presents them in a way that ends up being a cliché, lacking any sense of originality.
The film’s beginning is impressive, chiefly due to the imposing fighting scenes, the unexpected humor and the story that, initially at least, seems highly entertaining. Nevertheless, as the story unfolds, the quality deteriorates and the script is revealed for being simplistic and even boring at times.
Furthermore, the choice of the two protagonists was evidently made for commercial reasons, rather than artistic ones, a tactic that, in combination with the script that largely depends on them, resulted in a mediocre outcome. Min Ho Lee as Jong Dae and Rae Won Kim as Yong Gi may be both extremely handsome and popular; however, their acting skills cannot carry the movie in any way.
In contrast to the aforementioned, the film excels on a technical level, with the large budget being evident throughout its duration. The plethora of locations, all of which are portrayed realistically, the masterful usage of light and color in an array of shots and the sublime action choreography are the film’s definite advantages.
In conclusion though, the technical soundness of Gangnam Blues could not carry the film past mediocrity, a fact unfortunate because the movie had all the qualifications to become great.