‘Gangnam Blues’ Review: Brothers at odds

Oggs Cruz

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

‘Gangnam Blues’ Review: Brothers at odds
''Gangnam Blues' is hefty entertainment,' writes movie reviewer Oggs Cruz
Screengrab from YouTube

Yoo Ha’s Gangnam Blues opens with two politicians aboard a helicopter, surveying acres of farmlands, empty lots and rolling hills. Far above everybody else, they make plans to develop the land for Seoul’s expansion, oblivious to all the lives to be displaced. 
Jong-dae (Lee Min-ho) and Yong-gi (Kim Rae-won), orphans who adopted each other as brothers, are scavengers whose only aspiration is to have a decent place to live in. After being violently evicted from their pitiful shack, they are immediately recruited into a gang tasked to wreak havoc during a meeting that will keep the current leadership in his position.

After the rumble, the two are separated. Jong-dae is adopted by the gang boss, who has then retired from crime to become a humble laundryman. Jong-dae however is led to return to the gang, swindling farmers of their land to help his boss win the race to own Gangnam. Yong-gi ends up on the other side of the fence, rising from the ranks to become the trusted hatchet man of Jong-dae’s rival gang.


A period piece 

Gangnam Blues’ echoes Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002), in the way that it ironically portrays a place and everything that place stands for through its dark history. In the Scorsese film, New York is shown as various districts of immigrants who are lorded over by ruthless gangs who are in perpetual war with each other. 

Yoo’s film takes a similar approach, showcasing the past of Gangnam, now a district of Seoul that is famed for its upscale homes and commercial spaces, as one that is built on a marriage of high-level corruption and violence. Gangnam Blues, set in the ’70s, where South Korea, cautious and suspicious of the communist North, is in the process of expansion at whatever cost. 

Yoo painstakingly recreates the period, utilizing sights and sounds, including a lovely montage backgrounded by Freddie Aguilar’s “Anak,” to evoke a not-so-distant past that has been made close to unrecognizable because of the quick pace of development. The setting has been stylized to become the appropriate backdrop to the tale of two brothers who are forced to be at odds with each other by both history and fate.  

RUMBLE. A gang fight ensues. Screengrab from YouTube

The film’s cynicism is unwavering. It never allows itself to get waylaid by unnecessary romance and instead peppers itself with details of the social rot that paved the way for progress. Its characters are all conflicted, torn between what remains of their humanity and the ill deeds that they have contracted themselves to commit.

Also an allegory

Lee, who gained popularity for playing a lovestruck student in Boys Over Flowers, inhabits the role of frequently brooding Jong-dae with surprising consistency. Although he appears to be a little bit too easy on the eyes to be believable as a hardened gangster, his unsuspecting appearance is in good contrast to Kim’s Yong-gi, who appears to be the more devious and calculating of the brothers. (READ: IN PHOTOS: Lee Min Ho meets fans in Manila)

BROODING. Lee Min Ho changes from his lovestruck character on 'Boys Over Flowers.' Screengrab from YouTube

Gangnam Bluesrelies on Lee and Kim’s chemistry to work. The story of brothers of differing ideologies being pitted against each other against their will is the heart of the film, which does seem to reflect the tense situation between the two Koreas, masked within the conventions of a socially relevant genre flick.

A vital scene in the film has the two brothers confront each other inside a movie theater, where a carefully picked sequence from war film featuring violent explosions is playing. In a brilliant masterstroke, Yoo weaves together the tragic tale of Jong-dae and Yong-gi with the story of his country, while dissecting the moral ills that are part and parcel of both ambition and progress.


Gangnam Blues has been dubbed in Tagalog to cater to local viewers. It is inevitable that a lot has been lost in translation, especially since the film is culturally specific. Fortunately, the narrative still feels coherent and a lot of the mood, which seems to be more a product of the elegant visuals, has been more or less maintained.

Screengrab from YouTube

Gangnam Blues is hefty entertainment, with its mix of stylized violence as only the genre will require and a little bit of relevance from both a political and social perspective.  

Its ending does reek with more than just a tinge of despair, with humanity losing out to unhindered desire for wealth and power. However, the road to such a dreary conclusion is rife with such vivid human drama that its downer of a conclusion is earned, if not totally required. – Rappler.com

Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ ‘Tirad Pass.’ Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema. Profile photo by Fatcat Studios

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!