Attack the Gas Station!, 1999
dir: Kim Sang-Jin
The Korean New Cinema begins with movies like this one. They are unconventional, edgy and stimulating. Box Office takings soar, film exports increased and artistes get recognition at international festivals. As time goes by, Korean movies became more and more formulaic and thus getting more and more boring and unimaginative. The production quality has improved, no doubts, but the creative quality has gone down a mile.
The year 1999 is an important year for Korean cinema. It is the year where Koreans flock the cinemas and kick started the revival of the Korean movie box office hit phenomena. The movie that led this was SHIRI which eventually beat TITANIC at the box office but that same year also saw the release of TELL ME SOMETHING and ATTACK OF THE GAS STATION! The year also marked the release of critically acclaimed movies such as NOWHERE TO HIDE and MEMENTO MORI.
ATTACK THE GAS STATION! is a black comedy and is set in the course of one night, like Johnnie To’s PTU. It also reminds one of movies like Guy Ritchie’s LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS. Four friends, each with their own dark history, got bored and decided to rob a gas station. They have actually robbed the station the night before but since they are so bored, they decided to do it again. However, the station’s boss is smarter this time and hid the cash.
Seeing that there is not much money in the till, they put the boss and his teenage employees captive and run the station themselves under the direction of their leader (played by Lee Sung-Jae). Clumsy as they are since they do not know how to pump gas, they manage to get some cash out of the station’s customers, and in the course of doing so, also kidnapped customers that annoys them.
The situation becomes more chaotic when local gangs are involved and the four guys, who are all excellent fighters, made captive of these gangsters. By now, you will imagine what it is like in the room where all these people are held captive, the station employees, the arrogant customers and local gangsters, one of whom has a grudge against one of the station employees. It is quite a spectacle to see the shift in power among the captives which is at once comical but is so true to human behaviour.
Then the four guys decided to order Chinese food and got the delivery boy involved in the chaos. The delivery boy felt that he was insulted and gathered his big gang of delivery boys to teach them a lesson. Here, we see the role of the “lower” income group/blue collar workers in affecting the politics of the country, that is if you wish to see this as a metaphor and commentary on the state of the Korean society.
The final scene is a huge ensemble of gangsters, delivery boys as well as cops and the standoff is comical. Of course, the four guys got away and the incident was then forgotten but the movie sticks in my mind. The shooting style and look and feel is edgy, one cannot but see the decay of youth and the rise of the lower income class and all these within a movie that many will consider comedy. Movies like this one makes my heart pump faster and leaves me feeling refreshed. They make me love the movies more. It is very satisfying.