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‘Friend 2’ is a letdown

  • Published : Nov 5, 2013 - 19:17
  • Updated : Nov 5, 2013 - 19:17

A scene from “Friend 2.” Lotte Entertainment
More than 10 years have passed since the release of filmmaker Kwak Kyung-taek’s record-breaking gangster film “Friend” in 2001. Its highly anticipated sequel was finally unveiled to the press on Monday, ahead of its scheduled release on Nov. 14.

Loosely based on Kwak’s personal experience growing up in Busan, the 2001 movie dealt with four teenagers and their friendship and betrayal. The sequel features one of the four high school kids from the original, Jun-seok, who used to be the leader of the four and the son of a powerful mob boss.

The film, titled “Friend 2,” still focuses on the themes dealt with in the earlier film: the highly romanticized male-friendship, nostalgia, Busan and the desire for power. But it manages to be just another crime drama featuring gangsters in suits like many we’ve seen in recent years ― think “Nameless Gangster” (2012) and “New World” (2012) ― failing to offer what perhaps made “Friend” so popular: the engrossingly emotional depth of the young, troubled characters.

Jun-seok (Yu Oh-seong, who played the same character in the 2001 movie) is now a high-ranking gangster after serving 17 years in prison for ordering the killing of his friend Dong-su (played by Jang Dong-gun in the original movie). Now middle-aged, he tries to secure his position in the Busan-based crime syndicate, and is seen as a threat to Eun-gi (Jung Ho-bin), an ambitious member who aspires to be the gang’s leader.

He then decides to work with Seong-hoon (Kim Woo-bin), a 20-something gangster whom he first met while serving in prison. The young man is also the son of Jun-seok’s high school female friend, who now works as a bar hostess.

Seong-hoon was raised by his struggling mother and her abusive partner, not knowing much about his late biological father. He ends up serving a year in jail for beating his mother’s partner after witnessing him physically abuse her. While in jail, Seong-hoon develops respect for Jun-seok, who is nothing like his mother’s abusive partner.

The plot of the movie unfolds as Seong-hoon’s identity is gradually revealed.

One of the biggest problems of the film is the lackluster performance of actor Kim as Seong-hoon. The model-turned-actor’s presence throughout the film is rather enigmatic, while his character should not be. This is a troubled, angry young man who has been damaged by his childhood experiences. Yet in many scenes, viewers only see a model who seems to be shooting a TV commercial for suits.

There is also a flaw in the character development; it is hard to empathize with why Seong-hoon so obsessively plans revenge against those who killed Dong-su. This certainly distracts and does not go well with the presence of actor Yu, whose performance is deeply nuanced and controlled.

One of the reasons why Kwak’s 2001 film was so successful was because it captured the essence of male friendship shared by its young and highly flawed characters. Their betrayal was understandable and even heartbreaking because it happened during the adolescence-adulthood transition, as they started to desire power and authority. The characters were changed forever by their friendship and the way it was broken. In the sequel, however, we do not see these moments anymore. What is offered instead ― a rare friendship between a young man and a father-like figure ― could have been more engaging with a more convincing Seong-hoon character.

A Lotte Entertainment release, “Friend 2” opens in theaters on Nov. 14.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)