The film opens with up with a bit from the original "Friend". As if the title weren't enough, "Friends 2" makes a point of insisting that it is part of a legacy. But this isn't some sort of happy triumphant return to the silver screen for a storied franchise. "Friends 2" seems utterly determined to remind its audience that if there was any hope or sense of recovery from the end of the first movie, this is information that has long since fallen by the wayside. It's especially unknown for the new generation of gangsters who appear here.
This is the main problem with the film as a whole, though, is that it spends so much time in flashback providing context for everything that there's little in the present day storyline to grab onto. While Kim Woo-bin appears prominently on the theatrical poster, and the ending's dramatic thrust is clearly centered on the final decision his character makes regarding his mentor, he doesn't actually have that many scenes. So much for the next generation.
Instead what "Friends 2" focuses on is the horrifically never-ending degree of brutal violence that appears to characterize gang life. Constantly throughout this movie I kept thinking "oh no someone's going to get stabbed again". There is no fun and joy in these violent altercations. They just keep escalating as more and more characters are further brutalized, less because of what they actually do so much as because they demonstrate a bad sense of timing
Interestingly, while there's not much of a storyline holding this movie together, these scenes themselves make a fairly strong statement about the cyclical nature of gang life. "Friends 2" is all about forcing the viewer to realize that, hey, isn't it great how these gangsters are friends? Well guess what now they're going to team up and do horrible monstrous stuff. And sometimes other people will do it to them. And this has been going on for decade after decade, and will keep going on again and again. Forever.
There's a depressing degree of nihilism at play here. Gangster movies often fall into the trap of romanticizing these criminal enterprises and making them look cool. "Friends 2" most assuredly does not do that. Its glorious street fights are just sad statements of a violent, destructive world. Early scenes with the child actors especially emphasize that these basically psychotic, selfish, gang members will pass on similarly terrible values to their kids. That brief moment of friendship is a mere sarcastic refrain, that moment of minimum pleasure worth justifying the most awful brutality.
Overall "Friends 2" doesn't have much resonance as a character based drama. Anyone who wanted to know what the characters from the first movie are doing some seventeen years later will likely be disappointed at this follow-up to their lives. But then, life doesn't have happy endings, and people don't necessarily learn anything just because the last we see of them is at a dramatically relevant point in the narrative. Consequently, as an allegory for what the long term emotional consequences of gang warfare are really like, "Friends 2" is a much stronger film. It makes a mockery of the values of the first to be sure, but that's what you get for putting too much faith in a movie.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
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