By Yi Chang-ho
What are the best days of your life? For the high school friends in Riverbank Legends it's when they hang out at night on their territory, a bare riverbank; a hard-won place they fought over side by side. For the friends in Radio Star
it's when they have nowhere left to go than a remote provincial town, but realize they can still rock and still have their friendship. As the films show: time changes, but boys will be boys and friends will still be friends.
"Riverbank Legends" ("Gangster High
While in reality Korean high schools are all about studying until late at night, "Riverbank Legends" ("Gangster High
") is one of Korean high school films with male protagonists for whom studying is not an issue. They spend their days establishing their names as the toughest fighters, in this case, by proving who rules the riverbank.
Director Jo Beom-goo
succeeded in making Riverbank Legends ("Gangster High
") an entertaining and fun film without many pretensions. The film borrows from many of the stereotypes used in these films about male friends in high school, but also offers some variations.
The stereotypical elements are found in the characterizations of the film's three friends. Park Gun-hyung
plays the toughest and most skillful fighter. He's the brooding quiet type, doesn't talk much, but his presence makes him the undisputed leader. Lee Chun-hee
's character is the more dreamy type. He isn't as skillful, but when they fight he transforms into a tough fighter. The third character _ played by MC Mong
_ is the fast talker and the joker. The fact that he isn't much of a fighter means that his loud words are often not followed up by actions.
The storyline differs from other films of the same genre such as the 2001 movie "Friend"
by Director Kwak Gyeong-taek
, which was an intense drama and study of group dynamics, or "A Romance of Their Own" ("Temptation of Wolves
" - Kim Tae-gyoon
, 2004) that includes rivalry over a girl.
Riverbank Legends remains the story of three friends, two of the protagonists who engage in a relation with a woman, but it's not much more than a footnote. The relationship between the friends doesn't undergo much change. Time passes by, they graduate from high school and for a while Park's character disappears. Situations change, but the characters do not develop, remaining virtually the same. Other elements are added to the plot, but without much more result than more fights to engage in.
Without a proper element to drive the plot, the story slows down in the middle part of the story.
An element that works well in Riverbank Legends is the humor, which through its characterizations, dialogue and plot make up a lot for the underdeveloped areas of the film.
The fight scenes are also worth mentioning, they are kinetic and well choreographed. Park's character as the top fighter has some slick moves, but it always stays within the believable. The scenes offer exhilaration, but never take you out of the film's story with spectacular moves that demand all your attention, rather, the way they fight illustrates their characters with Park's and Lee's characters always keeping an eye on MC Mong
's during a fight.
Riverbank Legends story hasn't much depth and the characters are the usual stereotypes found in these films. However, all the elements together make for an entertaining film; the action, humor and a tale of friendship easily make up for what it lacks.
" is in the first place a feel-good movie. Without becoming overly dramatic in the second part _ a feature not uncommon with Korean films, even when they are comedies or better said: when they started out as comedies _ the film's dramatic developments create affection for the characters, but remains in check to let you leave the film with a warm feeling.
is not revolutionary in its plot and is another variation of city people finding themselves and developing their personality while being "forced" to stay in the country.
Director Lee Joon-ik
, who has proved himself with "The King and the Clown
" (2003), pulls it off again with Radio Star
. He improvises by not focusing on romantic aspects or on learning about life and respecting others, the main focus is friendship. Making the protagonists re-realize what they have, rather than learning something new.
plays a former rock star who still behaves as if he is still worshipped _ except that those days are long gone. Mr. Rock Star is impossible and refuses to grow up. Any manager would have ditched him but his _ played by Ahn Sung-ki
_ is also his friend and so puts up with and even pampers him. Ahn's character also needs to grow up as he avoids his parental duties by going on the road with the rocker. After Park's character causes problems that makes him lose another gig, his manager has to resort to stalking people to get a last chance for Park's character: as a DJ at a village in the country.
The character development follows a predictable pattern. At first, Park's character is unbearable to everyone and he acts very reluctant and irresponsible towards his new job. As time goes by, he is of affected by the eccentric town's people. His show full of loud rock becomes popular with the locals.
The odd town's people, who make up the supporting characters, touch upon some social issues. There is a young woman who is stuck in this town, serving the men in a teahouse and the little boy helping out his grandmother in her restaurant after being left behind by his only parent, his father. However, they are never fully fleshed out.
The real-life punk-rock band No Brain fulfills a double role. They are part of the supporting cast and they help him find enthusiasm for rock music again. They also have an important part in the sound track with their songs.
The soundtrack adds further support to the film. At first, the rock music is foreign to the town's people and represents the city. Later the music becomes the bridge between Park's and Ahn's characters, and the town's people.
Park and Ahn interact well. They both deliver as actors, although the film's plot doesn't offer enough dramatic development. Many elements are underused, in favor of a focused plot around friendship. It leaves the film light-weighted with characters that are not fully developed.
Despite the underused factors, the film offers enough with a strong and well integrated soundtrack, good acting and the warm portrayal of friendship and its importance to the protagonists.