An appealing lead character and telling details about modern Korean life help compensate for a too-attenuated, slightly soapy narrative in this ambitious crime saga, which picked up the Dragons and Tigers Award, the top Asian-pic prize, at this year’s Vancouver fest. Combo of over-the-top antics and tough regional commentary make this “Fish” — already a hit with Korean youth — too tough for most offshore consumers. Fest auds should eat it up, though.
Han Suk-Kyu plays Makdong, an irreverent youth fresh out of the army and distressed to find his rural village (now called Ilsan New Town) surrounded by hideous new apartment towers. A chance meeting on a train with the mopey Miae (Shim Hye-Jin), a pretty, and pretty confused, nightclub singer, eventually puts him in contact with a tough Seoul gang leader (Moon Sung-Keun). Having no other prospects, Makdong quickly rises in the gang’s ranks, while edging closer to Miae, who just happens to be his boss’s g.f.
It sounds like a Veronica Lake movie, and “Green Fish” does have some nice noirish touches. Intriguingly, its particular brand of corruption appears to put a cap on serious violence — mostly, thugs stick to fists and baseball bats, and when someone actually gets killed here, all hell breaks loose. But the stylishly lensed pic is actually more concerned with changes in Korean society, and how rural people have a hard time connecting with rampant materialism.
Pic has a nice finish, with a coda on the aftermath of tragic events, but emotional outpouring near end is a bit hard to take, with principal characters bawling their eyes out for a very long seg.