This continued study of New Korean Cinema only seems to be getting better, particularly with my recent viewing of Kim Sang-Jin's Attack the Gas Station!, a visceral and experimentally shot study of crime and urban life in Korea. Set in the matter of two nights, the film explodes off the screen with kinetic energy unlike anything I have seen in sometime and is incredibly reminiscent of the works of both Quentin Tarantino and Guy Ritchie. Geared towards a youth audience Attack the Gas Station! is unapologetic in its narrative and visual leanings, and holds no qualms in showing graphic violence and dropping expletives. However, where a film like Attack the Gas Station! seems to diverge from the previously mentioned directors in its underlying social commentary and depth of character development. The film would have been incredibly watchable had the director provided no back story for the main character, but the decision to add such an element makes it a far more enjoyable movie than the reviews I read prior to viewing could have ever hoped to do. While the copy I viewed suffered from terrible dubbing, the general gritty and violent nature of the film made this fact go away almost instantly and I found myself enthralled with the characters every action, no matter how degrading or socially unacceptable in may have been. The violence in Attack the Gas Station! is not poetic and it is certainly not meant to be vengeful as has been the case for so many movies I have previously reviewed, it is simply there as a means of entertainment and once a viewer realizes this, they are allowed to let go of serious expectations and enjoy a sporadic and at times zany film.
Attack the Gas Station! follows four young punks who have taken it upon themselves to rob gas stations for their money, however, after a night of success at a particular station they decide to hit up the joint again with the hopes that their revenue will be similar. However, this is not the case, and in a fit of confusion and rage they decide to manage the gas station themselves and take one hundred percent of the profits. The gang's leader is No Mark (Lee Sung-Jae) who espouses "speak soft and carry a big stick" mentality that proves perfect for his position as the group clearly obeys his every word. The group also includes Painter (Yu Ji-Tae) a quiet individual who clearly excels at defacing property. There is also Rock Star (Kang Sung-Jin) who is the most flamboyant of the group, with his leather pants and seemingly unending lines of curse words. Finally, there is Mad Dog (Yu Oh-Sung), a crazed individual, as his name suggests, who has a fight to the death mentality, which is only emphasized by the continual presence of a large wooden stick that he uses as a means of enforcement. Throughout the night the group, in a rather comedic manner, attempt to maintain the gas station, while both dealing with a diverse group of customers, while also assuring that the employees of the gas station do not escape from captivity. The groups inability to run the station, leads to disgruntled customers and run-ins with local gang members as well as one delivery boy who is fed up with continually dropping food off to them at various times through the night. We are led to believe that the group is engaging in such behavior simply as a means to rebel, but as flashbacks for each of the characters suggests, they have come to their situations as a result of outside forces oppressing them in various ways, and the ultimate result is that this lifestyle is the only thing they find success within. The film ends in a huge fight scene that is tense and thrillling and truly has to be seen to be believed, but as any good film should, the members of the group discover something about themselves that transcends their personal lives. Each walks away from the mess more mature and ready to integrate their unique lifestyles into more socially acceptable means.
So, while I am careful to note the simplistic nature of the commentary within the film, I cannot express how well delivered the commentary is as a whole. At first it appears to be a simple film about rebellion, but this quickly evolves into a commentary on adapting youth mentalities into a South Korea that continues to industrialize at a more rapid rate. Multiple scenes in the film depict Painter destroying various signs the promote unity and work ethics within South Korea. It is not until we realize that he was once an aspiring artist whose dreams were shattered by rhetoric of "real work" and "respectable" employment that his rage is explained. Fortunately, by the films close painter has found a way in which to adapt his skills to assure gainful employment and thus fit into a vision of South Korea in which every person finds success. While it could be easy to read such a narrative as inherently conservative, I would argue that this is by no means the case; instead it is rather liberal in its commentary on proper employment. The other gang members find success as musicians, baseball players and drill instructors. Attack the Gas Station! is not a film about what one cannot do with innate skills, but instead about promoting the cultivation of such skills in unique and profitable ways. In fact, the film is incredibly critical of ideologies that dismiss individuals lack of social involvement and note the such rhetoric comes from both the upper and lower classes, as is evidenced by the various businessmen who dismiss No Mark and his friends, as well as the gang members who claim that the gang cannot excel beyond their petty turf wars. Ultimately, the film reminds viewers that in order to prove successful, one must ignore social commentaries that are unfavorable and affect their own positive change, even if said change requires a night of thievery and debauchery to inspire the desire to move forward.
Attack the Gas Station! is something to be viewed fully and without interruption. I cannot begin to recommend it enough, particularly to those individuals who find themselves fans of action films; to me this is one of the best in some time. A copy is a must, also it appears as though there is a sequel.