Gangnam Blues (also titled Gangnam 1970) is a gorey gangster noir. Fans of Lee Min Ho will be pleased that he’s grown out of his cheesy chaebol loverboy roles, and into a full fledged movie star.
This dark period piece takes place during the politically corrupt 1970’s. Hard to believe that Gangnam – the Beverly Hills of Seoul, used to be farmland forty years ago. All those fancy stores and high-rises were built by greed and bloodshed. Lee Min Ho plays Kim Jong-dae, an orphan who makes his living picking up garbage. His fellow “ragmen” and bro-for-life is Baek Yong-ki (Kim Rae-won). After their shanty is destroyed, the two decide to join a local gang, but are split up after a bloody raid goes south.
Jong-dae is accepted into Bossman Kang’s family. There is a limited love interest with Kang’s daughter Sun-hye (AOA’s Seol Hyun) but it doesn’t go too far since Jong-dae keeps getting drawn into the gangster’s life.
Bossman Kang desperately wants to live a normal life for the sake of his daughter. He disbands his gang and takes out a loan to start a laundromat, but goes further into debt. Jong-dae joins another gang to make more money, and is eventually reunited with Yong-ki, who has joined a rival gang. Yeah, there are a bunch of gangs in this movie and it’s kinda hard to keep track of them all. When they have full-on fights where everybody’s wearing the same black suit. I wonder how they know who to punch.
Since this is a period piece, most of the women are in traditional roles. Sun-hye is the obedient wife and daughter. Most of the gangsters’ girlfriends are onscreen mainly for sex appeal. And yes, there is a lot of sex. Quite a bit of nudity and fornication, which surprised me since I’m so used to k-dramas where you don’t see the main couple kiss until five episodes in. The one lady in power is a conniving Madame (Kim Ji-su). She introduces Jong-dae to the real estate game and uses him to help cheat gullible farmers out of their land.
Gangnam Blues is dark and gritty. However, the plotline is at times formulaic and confusing. I honestly don’t think this movie would’ve held my attention without Lee Min Ho’s charisma. It’s the third installation in director Yu Ha’s “street series” trilogy. You’d think the third time would be the charm.
*Spoiler Alert* You can see the ending a mile away. Apparently Lee Min Ho is such a huge star in China, that an alternate ending for his character was shot for the Chinese version.
Bottom line for Gangnam Blues – watch it if you’re a Lee Min Ho fan and want to support him. You won’t be disappointed by his acting. The cinematography in this film is quite beautiful and the attention to historical detail is amazing. Just don’t expect to be blown away.
Pros: Excellent acting all-around, especially from Lee Min Ho. A great way to watch history come alive in a quality period piece where everything from the cars to the slacks are spot-on 1970’s. An engaging storyline that is predictable but intriguing. Solid soundtrack.
Cons: Run-of-the-mill fight scenes. A plethora of gangsters and corrupt politicians that you won’t get emotionally attached to. A conventional story arc.