Saturday, April 14, 2007

Korean Gangsters

The gangster genre is alive and well in Korea with a number of strong releases that occurred in 2006. It is the genre that won’t die no matter how often you hit it over the head with a metal bat and directors continue to try to find a new angle in order to give it a fresh look. The gangster genre is a truly Asian phenomenon and one has to wonder if the enduring popularity of the Jopok, Triad and Yakuza films has some underlying social significance. While gangster films have had their periods of popularity in the West, most western crime films are one’s of individual transgressions against society. In Asia though, the vast majority of crime films fall very much within the structured world of organized crime. It seems to suggest a very different approach between the West and Asia – the individual vs. the collective or perhaps outcast vs. family. While individual crime is nearly taboo in Asian film (and often of a horrific nature ala Dr. Lamb or Untold Story), crimes committed under the umbrella of an organization that acts as a surrogate family is much more understandable and forgivable. Within this structure it is also socially permissible to invest some of your criminal characters with heroic qualities – those that follow a code of honor and loyalty. These conflicting ethical gray areas often allow the directors to go far beyond making simple crime stories to exploring character, community and morality. That was certainly the case with last year’s Bittersweet Life and this year with films like Cruel Winter Blues, A Dirty Carnival and these two additions, Righteous Ties and Sunflower.

Righteous Ties (Korea, 2006)

Sunflower (Korea, 2006)


YTSL said...

I'm guessing that it doesn't help the Korean SUNFLOWER that there's a Mainland Chinese arthouse favorite out there with the same title! ;(

Brian said...

Plus Sunflower doesn't sound much like a gangster film and the picture shown above makes it look more like a family comedy or romance.

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of watching Sunflower last night. Kim Rae Won is indescribably heart-breaking in that role. Each emotion is totally captured on his face. Just a great movie.

Brian said...

Glad you liked it as well. Just had an email from a friend who told me how much he enjoyed it as well. The film hits a lot of great notes.