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A quartet of disaffected Korean youths have robbed a Seoul gas station. Later, while hanging out in a Chinese noodle shop, they decide to rob the same gas station. After taking the gas station over, their wacky antics ensue; forcing the manager to sing, kidnapping customers that complain about the service, and staging fist-fights between street gang members and gas station employees; all of these reflect their own gripes against society. Written by
Great movie about group dynamics with a powerful cast
Although the tagline of Attack The Gas Station (1999) is `Just when you wanted to laugh, here they come,' it might as well have been `Idle hands are the devil's playthings.' In ATGS, the third and most successful film from Korean director Sang-Jin Kim, four young Korean punks, well, attack a gas station obviously (twice, the same station both times), because they are bored. As they realize running the station for an evening might be more profitable than simply robbing it, they end up taking hostage the manager and employees as well as most of the customers. On the surface, ATGS is a black comedy with a great cast, but in the end is also a wonderful examination of group dynamics. The group is lead by Sung-jae Lee, who plays No Mark. He is the most conservative looking of the four, with short, military style hair, and relatively normal clothing. He is also one of the easiest ways to recommend this movie, as he totally dominates the screen whenever he is in it, to the point where it is completely believable that he intimidates two armed police officers in their squad car as he chases them down with a moped. Oh-seong Yu plays Bulldozer, who is in charge of the hostages and swaggers around menacing people with a hockey stick. He gets less screen-time than the other three, stuck as he is in a back room with his prisoners, but is always impressive as he is shown controlling the ever growing crowd. Seong-jin Kang, who plays Ddan Dda-ra (a failed musician) and Ji-tae Yu, who plays Paint (a failed painter who likes to create nudes, then throw paint across them and shout `I'm a genius!'), are fun to watch and are more punkish, but are overshadowed by both No Mark and Bulldozer. Even considering that, all four give outstanding performances and are consistently entertaining to watch. It is as they take more and more hostages that ATGS becomes really interesting. It just seems impossible that one man, Bulldozer, even armed with a big club, can control a group of twenty plus hostages. They even ask him about this. `What would you do if a group attacked you?' to which he replies [this is an approximation] `I would pick just one. I would ignore all of the others and just beat up that one guy, no matter what. It's happened to me once. Four guys attacked me. I sent one to the hospital. Me? A couple of bruises.' As he relates his story, the hostages shrink away from him. But the hostages are not controlled simply through intimidation. Bulldozer punishes them by making them do handstands. Ddan Dda-ra makes four rival gang members sing as he and his friends eat. No Mark forces the manager to fix a broken phone, but keeps smashing it after it's been fixed (after which he yells `Fix it!'). And of course, they get the hostages to control each other. They encourage the employees to browbeat the manager. Bulldozer instigates a fight between one of the employees, a heavyset high-school kid, and a gang member who's been bullying him. After the kid easily beats up the gangster, Bulldozer makes him his number two man, even leaving him in charge of the hostages as Bulldozer goes to eat with No Mark, Ddan Dda-ra and Paint. It is these group dynamics that are perhaps the most fascinating aspect of ATGS, as we watch No Mark and his gang utterly dictates situations that seem at first totally out of control. On a personal note, I'm very glad guns are almost totally non-existent in ATGS (only the cops have them). The movie leaves no doubt whatsoever that the gang are bad-asses. It shows them beating up groups twice their size. As mentioned, No Mark is able to push around two armed police officers. But it's a bad-assness based entirely on their personal abilities. They push people around because they can, not because some gun gives them that power. If No Mark and the others had used guns, it would have been the gun that was controlling the hostages, not them. Using guns would have made ATGS much more serious and disturbing, when it is mostly satirical and relatively light-hearted. The absence of guns lets us like No Mark, Bulldozer, Paint and Ddan Dda-ra, who are criminals, but not villains. Yes, they rob a gas station (twice) and beat up a bunch of people, but their threats mostly end with a mild pummeling. With a gun, the only alternative from shooting someone in a horrible but non-lethal manner is to kill them. Without that ever present threat of death, Attack the Gas Station can provoke a chuckle as these four young men get away with (metaphorically speaking) murder.
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