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[Movie Review] 'Fate' a tale of two gangsters

2008/03/18 Source

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"Fate" (Sukmyeong) packs plenty of heart-pumping action sequences on the strength of high-profile Korean Wave stars but its heavy reliance on stylized images without offering background details stops short of expectations. In the movie, we see the downfall of a handsome and kind-hearted gangster Woo-min (Song Seung-heon) who attempts to hit it big by attacking a casino along with his close friends including Cheol-jung (kwon Sang-woo).

Somehow, they manage to escape with bags of cash, but it turns out that Cheol-jung, a short-tempered, foul-mouthed money-will-solve-everything villain, has sold them out for a reward in a secret contract that he hopes will land him a comfortable life.

After all, Cheol-jung's unwavering belief about life is that money talks the loudest and nothing else, even lifetime friendship, counts.

Playing a scapegoat, Woo-min serves a two-year prison term, showcasing his willingness to sacrifice for his friends. Once out of prison, however, he realizes that something is amiss.

His closet buddy Do-wan (Kim In-kwon) has become a drug addict, his girlfriend is stuck in a shady trap, and his friend-turned-enemy Cheol-jung is cruising at high speed as a ringleader who commands numerous thugs and juggles up cash to get a construction project done. (In Korean cinema, gangsters are often depicted to have been involved with construction projects in addition to their time-honored sources of cash such as adult clubs, bars and prostitution.)

Woo-min and Cheol-jung stand at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Woo-main remains calm throughout the film, rarely revealing his real emotions.

In contrast, Cheol-jung keeps talking and shouting, almost a broken radio whose sound is almost always four-letter words.

Like many Korean gangster flicks, "Fate" zooms in on the action scenes where main characters led by Woo-min square off against countless and nameless thugs brandishing iron sticks and Japanese knives.

Amid a series of fighting scenes, director Kim Hae-gon intermittently sheds some hints about the past relationships involving Woo-min, Cheol-jung and Do-wan.

But their shared past remains largely sealed, and it's up to the audience to keep their imagination wheeling as to how they bonded with each other in the first place.

Until the final big-stakes drug deal gets started, the camera lingers around Woo-min and Cheol-jung at a pace that may test the patience of even the good-hearted audiences.

Even if such takes are designed to highlight the personal charms of Song Seung-heon, who makes a high-profile comeback after his military service, and a transformative image of kwon Sang-woo, who takes up a baddie's role for the first time in his career, the running time devoted to capturing their cool images seems overdone.

"Fate" has been made with a careful consideration for the strengths of two main characters. But the portraits of Woo-min and Cheol-jung never go beyond admiration of their contrasting styles and panache for violence, and one comes away with such sour questions as "Why are Korean filmmakers so obsessed with a gangster genre for depicting friendship?"

Despite the longer-than-necessary running time of 123 minutes, Song Seung-heon seems at ease with himself, showcasing his "telling eyes" that express various emotions with subtlety and maturity.

But true show-stealing gigs come from kwon Sang-woo who seems in perfect sync with his own character. All the low-life slang spitting out from Cheol-jung sound natural and even ironically insightful.

Kwon, from now on, should consider taking the role of a hot-tempered villain because, at least in "Fate", he seems more realistic and believable than ever.

"Fate", shot in Busan and on Jeju Island, is an MKDK Pictures production and will be released nationwide on March 20.

By Yang Sung-jin

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