When, I’m sure, you watch the Korean movie titled Gangnam Blues set to be released in the Philippines on March 4, it might take a while before you can recognize your idol tough and threatening as a gangster, an abrupt departure from his wholesome persona in his popular Koreanovela starrers topped by his 2007 breakthrough role as Gu Jun-pyo in Boys Over Flowers that won him several awards including Best New Actor at the 45th Baeksang Arts Awards, and City Hunter in 2011 that cemented his status as a leading man and that got him nominated for Most Popular Actor at the same awards as well as for Outstanding Korean Actor at the 7th Seoul International Drama Awards. His other starrer, Faith, has just finished its run on ABS-CBN.
Or as an endorser for Bench for which he came two years ago to personally promote the product, a visit which he recalled with fondness during our one-on-one (story coming out in Conversations with Ricky Lonext Sunday, Feb. 15) in this city last Jan. 20.
Directed by Yoo Ha (photo, whose other works include Frozen Flower, the story of a man in power who engages in a passionate affair with his right-hand man with whom he shares his wife), Gangnam Blues is set in 1970 when Gangnam was being developed from a farmland into the modern hub that it is today, setting off a mad scramble among wealthy land buyers to rule the place.
Lee Min Ho and co-star Kim Rae-won are cast as ragmen Jong-dae and Yong-gi respectively, two orphans who become blood brothers, residing in a shantytown. When their shack is bulldozed as part of the regional re-development, they are rendered homeless. A local gang recruits them to sabotage a political rally but they get separated in the chaos that ensues.
Fast-forward three years later: Stuck in his gangster lifestyle, Jong-dae teams up with a madame who has powerful connections and they begin scaring the farmer residents into selling their lands at cutthroat prices. A new gang surfaces and Jong-dae comes face-to-face with his foe, none other than Yong-gi.
It’s up to you to find out what happens next when you watch the movie to be shown exclusively in SM Cinemas nationwide, to be released by Viva Films which won the rights to it against other interested companies (one of them reportedly Star Cinema).
I saw Gangnam Blues during its premiere also last Jan. 20 at a theater at the Coex Mall which was preceded by the appearance onstage of Lee Min Ho, Kim Rae-won, Yoo Ha and the leading lady, all of whom have just graced the red carpet.
I was curious how Lee Min Ho fared in his first movie and, no, I wasn’t disappointed even if I was pleasantly surprised what an exciting action star he is. In the beautifully-choreographed fight scenes, he’s as graceful as he is in the Koreanovelas, proving how sexy he can be in a love scene to which his rom-com scenes pale in comparison. Dressed (as a Bench model) and barely dressed (in Gangnam Blues),Lee Min Ho is a topnotch sex symbol.
The movie features three other torrid love scenes which are as brazenly bold and daring as those we see in uncut movies shown in international film festivals.
Another welcome surprise is the inclusion of Freddie Aguilar’s (photo) Anak on the soundtrack, with the original version (yes, by Freddie himself) played in full during a series of scenes in which gangster Lee Min Ho finishes off the enemies one by one in some of the bloodiest scenes I’ve ever seen, bringing to my mind a similar scene in The Godfather (Part 1) when the Mafioso ordered his men to wipe out the enemies, juxtaposed with a tender scene of a baby being baptized, his crying reverberating in the whole church and mixing with the pained last breath of the massacred enemies. Yoo Ha must love Anak so much because he has it played (again, in full) at the end of Gangnam Blues. I think Yoo Ha is a music lover because in another movie (whose title I can’t recall), starring Kwon Sang-woo (another favorite of Filipino Koreanovela fans), he used the Morris Albert hit Feelings on the soundtrack.
I suspect that Gangnam Blues is Yoo Ha’s tribute to Francis Ford Coppola because in another scene, a raging mad Lee Min Ho is shown hunting down his brother-in-law who has just beaten up his sister, beating him to a pulp the way James Caan deals with his brother-in-law in Godfather after the guy batters James’ sister (played by Talia Shire, Coppola’s real-life sister).
Gangnam Blues is the third in Yoo Ha’s trilogy, the first was Spirit of Jeet Keun Do (2004) and A Dirty Carnival (2006). He holds Gangnam dear to his heart because he grew up there when the place was a vast farmland.
Here’s Yoo Ha’s statement furnished The STAR:
All creators come across qualities that heighten one’s sensitivity. To me, Gangnam represents space and time, a land of duality. When I first moved to Gangnam in 1974, this district saw a clash of agricultural movement and rapid development of a city, and as such, the old and the new clashed. Skyscrapers and old brick houses existed alongside, and the original residents of this area shared space with those who came to develop and occupy this new region. In Spirit of Jeet Keun Do, this is readily evident, as children of the original residents clashed with those who came from other regions. An as time passed, the original residents were pushed out, their children expelled from school.
On my way to school, I saw old classmates turned into junkmen. And later in life, they became vagrants. Towards the end of Jeet Keun Do shoot, I wanted to turn this story into a film. And when the city of Seoul announced its plans to develop Gangnam, the backbone of Gangnam Blues came together.
South Korea has turned into a capitalist society where money holds greatest power. Portraying two opposite ends, the vagrants and the riches butt heads in Gangnam, and as someone who walked the line between two extremes, I wanted to write poetry and make movies.
Teenage high school boys during that time were filled with violence of the military regime. And being born a male, high school boys had to prove their masculinity. With Spirit of Jeet Keun Do, I wanted to show how our education system bred violence while A Dirty Carnival showed how money ruled everything, andGangnam Blues shows how money inspires violence.
However, the common thread that ties the Street Trilogy is the existence and clash of youth and violence, portrayal of the youths who cannot conform and must exist in the fringe of society.
Viva Films, which has pioneered in showing Tagalog-dubbed foreign movies, will release Gangnam Bluesin Filipino. Let’s hope that the dubbers will faithfully capture the Korean-ness of the actors to avoid lessening the impact of the dialogues. It will kick off SineAsia which will exclusively screen (at SM Cinemas and Walter Mart Cinemas) Asian films dubbed in Filipino, a tie-up signed the other day between SM Lifestyle Entertainment, Inc. (SMLEI) and Viva International Pictures, represented respectively by Edgar Tejerero and Vic del Rosario Jr. The SineAsia Theater is the first Asian “Tagalized” theater in the country.
Other movies lined up for SineAsia are: From Vegas to Macau; Once Upon a Time in Shanghai; SPL 2; Mourning Grave; My Love, My Bride; and Rise of the Legend which stars artist like Chow Yun Fat, Tony Jaa, Nicholas Tse and Kim So-Eun. SMLEI has committed to reinvent one dedicated theater each in eight SM Cinema branches — namely SM Megamall, SM Sta. Mesa, SM Fairview, SM Iloilo, SM Bacoor, SM Cebu, SM Manila and SM North EDSA — to make way for the SineAsia Theater.
The Asian “Tagalized” films will come from the biggest studios in Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan such as CJ Entertainment, Showbox, TOEI Company LTD, 9ers Entertainment, Showgate, Megavision Pictures, EDKO Films Ltd., Wada, Lote, Sahamongkol, TOHO, Kadokawa Pictures TBS and Star Alliance. All movies that will be presented are the best that Asian cinema can offer.
By the way, keep your fingers crossed that a Viva plan to have Lee Min Ho star in a movie with Sarah Geronimo (photo) will be pushed through.