Director KWAK Kyung-taek's Friend (2001) was a huge hit. A tale of four close friends who grew up in the 1970s and the course their lives took under the influence of gang life, it garnered over 8 million domestic admissions, making it the most successful Korean movie to that time. Now, twelve years larter, KWAK is back with a follow-up film, Friend 2: The Legacy, which had 1.06 million admissions over its first weekend in release in South Korea, topping the local box office despite its "Restricted" rating.
This Friday, December 13th, 2013, is a lucky day for anyone looking for a great Korean action gangster film as Friend 2 opens here in the U.S. (Check IMDb, Fandango or your local listings to see if it's playing in a theater near you.)
Also known as Friend: The Great Legacy (its title on the online screener I watched for this review). the film begins with a flashback of LEE Joon-suk (actor YOO Oh-seong reprising his role from the first film) confessing in court that he ordered the murder of HAN Dong-su, one of his childhood friends.
The film then moves into the cinematic present, set seventeen years later as Joon-suk is about to be released from prison after serving his sentence. Before he gets out, however, he's visited by YEON Hae-ji, who requests that he use his influence in the prison to protect CHOI Sung-hoon (KIM Woo-bin), her 27 year old son who is just starting to serve a brief sentence. Joon-suk agrees and thereby saves Sung-hoon, who was marked for death because he and his gang had attacked a temple that was under the control of members of Lee's gang.
|YOO Oh-seong as LEE Joon-suk|
Upon his release, Joon-suk finds that he has lost status in the gang that was founded by LEE Chul-ju (JOO Jin-mo) his father. (Chul-ju's founding of the gang in 1963 is shown in one of several flashbacks to various time periods that punctuate the film.) While Joon-suk was incarcerated the Chairman of the gang had health problems, and nefarious gang member Eun-gi essentially seized the power to which Joon-suk was rightly entitled. Joon-suk becomes a mentor to Sung-hoon after he too is released from prison and enlists him and his friends in the upcoming battle with Eung-gi.
I must admit that I have not yet seen Friend (though I now really want to), but I don't think that's necessary to understand and enjoy Friend 2: The Legacy. I do know that the first film was centered on the friendship between the four main characters. The sequel differs in that there is no focus on any friendship between equals or cohorts. Rather it is the relationship between Joon-suk and Sung-hoon, who are basically a generation apart in age, upon which the narrative revolves.
|Joon-suk (left) and CHOI Sung-hoon (actor KIM Woo-bin)|
Friend 2: The Legacy is a crackin' good gangster flick, in the vein of Coppola's Godfather movies, which KWAK has acknowledged admiring. ACF Rating: 3.5 out of 4 star; highly recommended.
Also highly recommneded is the Korean Cinema Today podcast, which is also available at iTunes. The November 22, 2013 initial episode has host Pierce Conran talking with director KWAK Kyung-taek about Friend 2.
|Sung-hoon (left) and Joon-suk|
[A note about names: In this review I've spelled names as they appeared in the subtitles of the online screener I watched. Some of the spellings may differ on the theatrical print. I mention this because, for example, in press materials Joon-suk is spelled Joon-seok, and Sung-hoon is spelled Seong-hoon. This variation in spelling seems to occur fairly often when Korean names are anglicized.]