Review: Friend (2001)

Directed by:
Cast: , , ,

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

Greetings from the Sydney Asia Pacific Film Festival 2002! Although still in its infancy, this baby has a firm grasp on the rattle and is seriously rocking the joint! A few changes this year – a new venue [the Dendy Cinemas] showing Short Soup short films before the main feature and the tear-and-you’re-there rating cards are just some of the new additions to this year’s festival.

On the film front, Mark’s reports should have whetted your appetite, if not I’m here to tell you about the explosive Korean film,Friend which I caught last night.

If technicolour day-glo Thai westerns, regal Zhang Yi Mou’s slice-o-Chinese life or cheesy Bollywood musicals isn’t your cup of tea, you might be interested in Kwang Kyung Taek’s Korean 2001 smash-hit [box-office record breaking film in its homeland]

The word smash-hit isn’t always synonymous with quality film but I’m happy to report that Friend bucks this trend. Partly autobiographical, the story of four childhood friends from Pusan who grow up to lead very divergent lives is intense and unforgettable.

The film’s sharp sepia toned poster says it all – Dong-Su [Jang Dong-Gun] in the front with his piercing stare is ready to strike out, Joon-Suk [Yoo Oh-Sung] is calm but gives off a “don’t mess with me” vibe, Yoong-Ho’s [Jung Woon Taek] has a hesitant comical expression and Sang Taek [Suh Tae-Hwa] is quietly defensive in the back.

A story which spanned over 20 years sees two becoming big time gangsters in opposing gangs and the other two going off to college. Yes the working for opposing Korean triads part screams “tragic ending” right from the word go so you know that every decision they make is tormented and weighed down by their past. And if you think having gangsters as friends can protect you at school, let me recount the number of times all of them get beaten up… too many, including one all out brawl at the cinema that involved the whole audience! That is only a small entrée to what is yet to come.

Reminiscent of John Woo’s films, Friend deals with themes of male bonding, loyalty, honour and friendship in the gangster underworld but without Woo’s archetypal visionary ballet [no slow-mo bullet fest, or Chow Yun Fat with billowing trench coat or churches for that matter]. Like Woo though, it doesn’t skimp on sentiment but neither does it wallow in it either [although I was an emotional wreck by the end of this!].

Friend imay be steeped in memories but it is obvious they were events that were completely ingrained in the director’s mind because none of them lost any impact on screen and were probably enhanced considerably by his capable direction and the beautiful cinematography.

Friend is a swift kick in the gut, a slap in the face and a warm suffocating embrace rolled into one.

8.5 Cinema Brawls out of 10.
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