" of the most compelling films to emerge from Asian cinema in the past few years."

- Alexander

Friend (2001)

AKA: Chin Goo

Director: Kwak Kyung-Taek

Producer: Myeong-Hong Seok

Writer: Kwak Kyung-Taek

Cast: Yoo Oh-Sung, Chang Dong-Gun, Suh Tae-Hwa, Jung Woon-Taek, Kim Bo-Kyung, Joo-Hyun, Gi Joo-Bong

Running Time: 113 min.

Plot: Despite their different family backgrounds, four friends grew up together in the wearisome years of the 70s. But as time goes by, each of them takes a different life paths. After enrolling in college, Sang-taek and Jung-ho return to visit Dong-su(Jang Dong-Geon) and Jun-seok (Yu Oh-Seong), only to find one of them in jail and the other on drugs. Slowly life take difficult turns where friends become rivals in the crime world...

Availability: This title is available at


DRAGON MA'S REVIEW: I've always wondered about what it means to be a true friend, a brother even. In this film, the director paints a portrait of four friends who thought they would remain friends forever.

The plot is mainly the story of four young boys who grow up very differently. Song-Taek is the academic and the one most likely to succeed, Joong-so is the clown( strangely enough, he reminds me of Mike Myers), Joong-Suk, is the son of a gangster and Joong-Sun is the son of an undertaker. As these four kids grow up together and then grow into men, Joong-Suk and Joong-Sun drift towards crime and end up being gangsters while the other two pursue a less criminal lifestyle; but they still remain friends, that is, until events unfold that pit Joong-Suk and Joong-Sun against each other.

I'll leave it there but suffice to say it's a thoroughly emotional film, not in a John Woo melodramatic kind of way where there's a lot of homosexual subtext, and I credit the actors for doing such a phenomenal job in this film. Yoo-Oh Sung, Jang Dong-Un, Seo Tae-Hwa and Joong Un-Taek all come across so strongly and it really hurts to see things go bad. Yoo-Oh Sung gives a truly great performance, although I thought Jang Don-Un eclipsed him only slightly. The look of this film is excellent and there are some truly beautiful shots - but it's just part of a whole and by the end, you're exhausted; you've watched these four guys grow up, make mistakes and in it's conclusion, I wish they could have remain friends just like they originally intended.


ALEXANDER'S REVIEW: This site once had the quote "So you wanna be a gangsta?" on the main page, emblazoned across a picture of Michael Wong and Sooky Chan, guns aloft, from the crime drama The Blood Rules. A more apt image for this quote, however, would be the box art from the compelling Korean coming-of-age tale Friend. The auburn tinted picture of the four brooding young men, all sullen and garbed in the black uniforms of their high school seems to actually invite the viewer to join their tight knit group, to infiltrate the bond of their lifelong friendship, a friendship ultimately turned upside down by the brutal realities of organized crime.

While Friend isn't the best Korean film I've seen to date (JSA left me feeling more satisfied), it is one of the most compelling films to emerge from Asian cinema in the past few years (further evidence that Korea is producing the most exciting films on the continent). While not wholly original (Once Upon a Time in America and The Godfather covered much of the same territory years prior), Friend managed to completely reel me in with its stunning performances by Jang Dong-geon (Dong-su) and Yoo Oh-sung (Jun-seok). They portray the two tragic leads who succumb to the violent world of organized crime despite the pleas of their "straight" friends Jung-ho and Sang-taek. Yoo Oh-sung is tailor made for the role of gang boss Jun-seok. I was absolutely enthralled by his performance as the violent yet loyal hood with his gaunt face, near-constant snarl and the ever-present wisp of cigarette smoke.

Friend gets off to a promising start. The best visuals in the film occur within the first few minutes of the movie as it chronicles the disparate childhoods of four friends growing up in Korea in the '70s. The children bicker, play Pong, watch lurid porn on the group's sole VCR, and worship Bruce Lee. They flirt, pick fights with playground bullies and generally behave like all carefree teenagers do. Their future involvement in organized crime is only hinted at, but these subtle hints foreshadow the chaos that eventually erupts when two of the boys choose to embark on careers as gangsters.

My biggest complaint about Friend is the writer's attempt to cram these four boy's lives into a 113 minute film. It's tough to genuinely care about any one of these young men when they are splitting screen time with three other characters. Years pass without any mention of their whereabouts, which are usually only vaguely hinted at when they return to the screen. Because Joon-suk gets the most screen time and brings the most intensity to his role, he's by far the most memorable and compelling of the boys. Likewise, some plot points are underdeveloped and should have been fleshed out. Joon-suk's girlfriend, for instance, has major relevance early in the film, but all but disappears until the final act. An additional twenty minutes would have resulted in a still bearable 133 minute running time and would have better allowed writer Kwak Kyung-taek to tell his story.

Regardless, Friend is highly recommended.


MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: If there's one movie that lives up to its title, it's "Friend". In fact, it's so true to its title that I can't even think of a better name for it. It might be considered a gangster flick to most, but after a couple of viewings, it's certain that "Friend" is about 'friendship' and nothing more.

The plot, which is based on real-life events through the eyes of writer/director Kwak Kyung-Taek ("Sang-Taek") , is downright pure, intense, and is guaranteed to get some emotions going. It's not surprising that "Friend" was pretty much an autobiographical account because even its most trivial examples of friendship and the way they're presented to the audience could've only existed if one had witnessed it firsthand. That's what makes this film so authentic, it comes from the heart.

The film centers on a pack of four friends: Joon-Suk, Dong-Soo, Jung-Ho and Sang-Taek.

Joon-Suk is the leader of the bunch and everyone looks up to him. He's cool, tough, and at the same time, gentle to his friends. Although he has the power to boss his mates around, he treats them more as equals - giving them advice, hooking them up with chicks and sometimes even taking their advice as well. Joon-Suk was naturally given the title of "leader" due to his upbringing in a family that has some serious mob ties. As the film states, he's one of the most feared students at school since he developed a reputation for beating up students much older than him.

Dong-Soo is the second leader or right-hand man. He's also fearless and tough, but unlike Joon-Suk's outgoing attitude, he's quiet, laid-back and mysterious in a poisonous rattle-snake kind of way. He's also temperamental and sometimes looked at as the odd one of the bunch. Still, the other three respect him 100%. Dong-Soo and Joon-Suk are inseparable.

Jung-Ho is the clown or Ringo Starr of the group. Harmless, full of personality and fun. He's the type of guy everyone wants around because of his uplifting presence. He might cheat on schoolwork and goof around constantly, but unlike Joon-Suk and Dong-Soo, he draws the line when it comes to breaking the law or getting into trouble.

Sang-Taek, the narrator of the film, is the most practical of the four. Quiet, shy, soft spoken and gives new meaning to the words good boy and gentleman. Education and future come first with Sang-Taek, but he still enjoys the time with his hardcore buddies. Since he probably couldn't hurt a fly, he's guaranteed to be backed up by the boys when in need. Everyone likes Sang-Taek.

As the film's trailer states: "There was nothing to fear when they were together".

The film follows the lives of each character as they go from boys to men from the late 70's to the mid 90's. All four are put to the test as they take different directions in life. Themes of power, pride, sacrifice, jealousy, backstabbing, retribution and of course, respect are all encountered. But what it all comes down to is the true meaning of friendship and how it's forced to be altered and damaged due to misinterpretation and thoughtless decisions. Obviously, this leads to violence and death.

I've said it a million times and I'll say it again - "Friend" is a revelation for those who love film. It's beautifully directed, written, acted and shot. Even its haunting Ennio Morricone-style soundtrack and other recognizable tunes were chosen with thought and quality in mind. "Friend" will definitely go down as one of my favorite films of all-time.