‘Breathless’

Today I went to a pre-release, exclusive screening of the multi-award winning South Korean film by first time director Yang Ik-june. It is to be released in January 2010 and was shown here in Coventry specially to us in order to survey whether it is suitable to be released here in the UK.

In the film, Ik-jun Yang plays the role of the main character, Sang-hoon, who works as a low-level gangster collecting money from debtors to creditors. Sang-hoon seethes with rage due to his troubled childhood and abusive father. At any moment, he can lash out at relatives, friends and strangers with the only way he knows how to solve problems and satisfy his needs: savage violence.

One day, Sang-hoon walks along a residential road and spits on the sidewalk. He unintentionally hits a brash young high school student named Yeon-hee (Kkot-bi Kim). When Yeon-hee tells Sang-hoon to clean up his mess, he knocks her out with a punch to the face. Sang-hoon then sits across from her until she regains consciousness. He offers to buy the girl a beer and the beginnings of an unusual friendship occurs. Both of them soon realise they are very similar, in having gone through an unhappy childhood with torn families.

In terms of the issues and debates the film arouses, regarding its expected release here in the UK, the sheer level of violence and strong language the film contains would instantly require an 18 certificate. Women are seen brutally beaten, blood is graphically portrayed and teenagers are shown to copy this violence. Yeon-hee’s brother proves he thrives off violence by following in Sang-hoon’s footsteps as an upcoming gangster. Many English viewers would watch this film and find it inappropriately offensive and shocking, due to its treatment of women, students and children. Yang Ik-june successfully and realistically portrays the social background of the characters and where other directors would neglect and remove the ‘grimy’ bits, he exposes these and elaborates on them. He focuses on the brutal struggles of working-class South Korean families and the problems within the society, which the government overlooks. The subject matter is gruelling, shocking and not for anyone with a sensitive disposition. It is an emotional film, and looking around me I could see the shocked expressions on peoples faces. Towards the end some were even crying. A film that arouses this kind of response from an audience deserves a place in the cinema.

The main concern I have after watching the film is its unnecessary runtime. 130 minutes is far too long for a first time director to be producing. The storyline could have been easily wrapped up at 100 minutes, or even 90. Having said that, it is certainly the best Korean gangster film I have seen. The trailer for the film is shown bellow:

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