Tough going becomes Seoul consideration

Gangsters, criminals dominate Korean movies

SEOUL — Tough guys are dominating Korean movies. Most are criminals and some are violent — arousing the ire of critics, who say these characters are lousy role models who are often depicted abusing women.

At least a dozen current and upcoming Korean movies feature gangsters, usually themed around male-bonding in the face of adversity.

While some critics say these films simply mirror the societal trend of males getting stressed out, others see the pics as a dangerous influence.

“Films like these aim to feed male fantasies by depicting ideals like men’s loyalty to each other under extreme circumstances and emphasizing their toughness. But in doing so, they often isolate the female gender, even downright abusing them,” says reviewer Gina Yu.

There seems little doubt that this year’s phenom, “Friend,” the highest-grossing Korean film of all time, has started a copycat trend, helping to spawn a slew of films with macho themes. “Friend” centers on two friends who meet a tragic end when they join rival gangs.

Critics objected to the scenes where one character gives up his girlfriend to his best buddy as a token of friendship and when he verbally abuses his lover for not properly greeting his pal.

Indeed, some critics dub this as the “golden age for gangster movies.”

“The Humanist,” which opened May 11, looks at three males, one a gang honcho, who vent their frustrations by kidnapping and torturing a business tycoon.

“Failan,” which bowed April 27, tells of a goodhearted third-rate hoodlum who is seen as a victim of elitist society.

“Shilla’s Moonlight,” due out June 23, focuses on two high school grads who meet 10 years later. One is a schoolteacher, the other a gang boss; both fall in love with the same woman.

Among at least five upcoming productions in a similar genre are “Let’s Play, Dalma,” saga of a mob leader who goes into hiding in a Buddhist temple after accidentally killing someone; “Gangster’s MT” (membership training), in which wannabe mobsters go through intensive exercises; and “A Chat Between Killers,” a comedy about the heads of various syndicates relating their crime stories.

“Men in Korea are suffering from political and economic depression at the moment,” observes film critic Hee-moon Cho. “These movies are offering cathartic effects, through violence or whatever.”

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