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September 11, 2014

Friend 2: The Legacy

Friend 2 poster.jpg

Chingu 2
Kwak Kyung-Taek - 2013
CJ Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Even before it was actually stated in one of the DVD supplements, I suspected that Kwak Kyung-Taek had The Godfather II on his mind when he made Friend 2. The ambition, though not the running time, is there. The film shifts around at various time periods, showing a brief history of organized crime in Korea, from small independent gangs, to the much larger, formally assembled families. I only wish that CJ Entertainment had issued a new DVD of the first Friend from 2001, or better, included that film as part of a set, making the narrative of Friend II a bit easier to follow.

This is a story of fathers and sons, and mentors and proteges. The main story is about a crime boss, Joon-seok, newly out of prison in 2010 after serving a seventeen year sentence for the murder of a friend who was in a rival gang. Joon-seok takes on Sung-hoon, the son of a high school acquaintance, as a new recruit for his gang upon release. The film contrasts the loyalties of biological families with crime families, as well as the different ways of male bonding, whether through shared experiences, or purely mercenary.

friend 2.jpg

There is an impressive scene when Joon-seok is released from prison and goes to a formal dinner welcoming him back to his organization. There is a procession of black Mercedes, all the same model. The gang is composed of men dressed identically in black suits with open collar white shirts. The scene tells the viewer everything needed about how formalized gang life is at the moment. There is another scene of formal elegance, that of the cremation of the crime family chairman, with the casket moving forward down a long, golden corridor. Even if one loses track regarding how the characters are related to each other, Friend 2 is full of beautiful composed visual moments.

The original film is said to have autobiographical elements, taking place in Kwak's home region around Busan. The flashback section to 1963 is a capsule view of how Korea's organized crime was able to capitalize of Busan's location as a port city. The flashback also includes the rivalry between the street gang led by Jeon-seok's father against the yakuza, which at the time had control over port activity with unstated cooperation by the U.S. military. Especially as Korean films usually have present-day settings, and this part of Korean history is generally unknown to western viewers, it suggests that perhaps Kwak Kyung-taek should take on a film that takes place entirely in Busan, fifty years ago.

Posted by peter at September 11, 2014 07:03 AM