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Oh Yeon Soo (Actor) | Park Sang Min (Actor) | Shin Hyun Jun (Actor) | Kim Seung Woo (Actor)
This professional review refers to The General's Son Trilogy Boxset (Blu-ray) (3-Disc) (4K Remastering First Press Limited Edition) (Korea Version)
The General's Son films are amongst the most famous works of renowned director Im Kwon Taek, undoubtedly one of the most important and influential figures in modern Korean cinema. Although in the West he is perhaps most associated with art house cinema as a result of the success of films such as Chihwaseon, which won him the 2002 best director award at Cannes, Im has a long history of more commercial fare, something which is unsurprising considering that he has over a hundred films to his credit in a career that spans more than five decades.
The General's Son trilogy, which was based upon a novel by Hong Sung Yoo, certainly sees Im at the top of his game, being a great mixture of not only history, politics and themes of Korean national identity, but also of action and spectacle, packed with bloody, exciting fight scenes. Originally released back in the early 1990s when the Korean film industry was at a particularly low ebb, all three films in the trilogy were huge hits at the domestic box office, and provided a template for the country's new cinematic wave.
The trilogy is set during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and is based on the life of Korean independence activist and fighter Doohan (played by Park Sang Min, later in action blockbuster Tube), a young man who is actually the son of a famous general, and who rises to rule the Jong Ro area and to wage his own war against the brutal Japanese invaders. The three films chart his progress from a lowly beggar to street thug, and eventually to respected gang leader and folk hero of the independence movement, a long and difficult journey which sees him fighting countless battles against a variety of powerful foes. As the years go by and the Japanese, led by the cruel Yakuza Hayashi (Shin Hyun Joon), gradually tighten their grip, Doohan's struggle grows ever more difficult as he finds himself up against all kinds of evil schemes and betrayals, often with only with his own two fists to rely upon.
All trilogies need strong characters to keep viewers coming back, and The General's Son certainly has this in the form of Doohan. Far from being an idealised hero, the film never shies away from showing his flaws as well as heroic qualities, a fact which makes him all the more human, and ultimately more likeable. Thankfully, Im steers clear of the usual clichés of the rise to power genre, with Doohan's path taking many unexpected turns, being an epic tale which is unpredictable right up until its very end.
The supporting cast are equally effective and relatively free of lame stereotypes, with even minor characters having their own believable motivations, and Im never feels the need to throw in needless subplots or forced resolutions to the many narrative threads. Similarly, although there are a number of female characters who ostensibly act as romantic interests for Doohan, they too are surprisingly well written and play far more important and telling roles than simply falling into his arms.
Above all, Im is a great storyteller, and he allows Doohan's life to unfold at a good speed which is neither rushed nor languorous, and if anything the viewer is left at the end of the third film still wanting to follow him further. Im manages to pack a great deal into the films, and covers a lot of ground, not only in narrative terms but thematically as well. The depiction of the vicious Japanese colonisation never avoids the awful details, but also never reduces them to pantomime villains. As a result, whilst the three films are nationalistic affairs, they have a certain balance, being as concerned with Doohan's own personal conflicts as they are with that of the country.
Im's direction is wonderfully cinematic throughout the trilogy, really bringing the period to life, and he manages to combine a great eye for detail and visual flair with a basic commercial sensibility which helps to ground the films as entertainment rather than history lessons. The action direction from Jung Doo Hong, who was later acknowledged as one of the originators of the gritty Korean action style, working on the likes of Taegukgi and Public Enemy, is excellent, being brutal and inventive without any excess of style or slow motion nonsense. All three films feature a good number of bloody brawls, many of them involving multiple opponents, since poor Doohan has an unfortunate habit of finding himself up against rather unfavourable odds.
The General's Son trilogy is a must for any serious fans of Korean films who wish to explore beyond the popular new wave, as the three, and indeed most of Im's works, have had a major influence in shaping the country's modern cinema. Perhaps even more importantly, the three stand as an exciting and gripping saga filled with action and great characters, and should be enjoyed by viewers of all persuasions.
by James Mudge - BeyondHollywood.com
The General's Son is a re-release of the 1990 film by Im Kwon Taek, a director with over a hundred films to his credit and a career which has spanned more than five decades. Undoubtedly one of the most important and influential figures in modern Korean cinema, Im has been one of the first to receive recognition outside his native land, most notably with Chihwaseon, which won him the 2002 best director award at Cannes. The General's Son is one of his most popular films, the first part of a trilogy and a major box office success during its original domestic release.|
The plot is based on the actual life of Korean independence activist and fighter Kim Doohan, beginning with his early years growing up as a beggar in the Jong Ro area, which many saw as being the symbolic heart of the country, during the Japanese oppression. Doohan becomes involved with the resident street gangs, moving rapidly up the ranks due to his considerable fighting skills and fierce bravery. It transpires that he is actually the son of a famous Korean general who is currently embroiled in struggles against the invaders, and Doohan himself gradually takes on a similar role, uniting the gangs, residents and student idealists, and fighting back against the cruel Japanese.
The film is obviously a heroic, patriotic piece, and as such is perhaps likely to mean more to Korean viewers, or those with knowledge of the history of the time. However, the plot itself is generic enough, based upon themes of courage and pride, which should give it a universal appeal. Although fairly predictable, and offering no real narrative surprises, The General's Son is nevertheless well told, and works both as a depiction of a man's personal battle to take his place in the world, and that of a nation attempting to throw off the shackles of tyranny.
The main problem with the narrative is that Doohan's character is never really explored beyond his actions, and some of his motivations and acts of bravery, though merited by circumstance, would have benefited from deeper exploration. This is a shame, as the character is an interesting figure, and his fascinating emergence from the violent gang world to become a statesman and political figure deserves more in depth examination. As a result, his character does not develop significantly during the film, and he is easier to sympathize with as a symbol rather than an individual, which robs the film of some of its emotional impact.
Similarly, a number of plot points and thematically important supporting characters are glossed over or mentioned only briefly, serving only to undermine the narrative. This is especially true towards the end, when a couple of plot twists are hurriedly introduced, to slightly confusing effect.
Although The General's Son is lacking in character development, and is rather clumsy in revealing some of its secrets, it is well paced, with a number of fight scenes to keep things interesting. The film comes across as a mixture of a serious, fact based historical drama and an action packed gangster film. This is an odd combination, which is surprisingly successful, and though perhaps not quite offering enough for purists of either camp, it is, in general, very entertaining.
Im directs with a rich cinematic flair and a great eye for period detail, which helps to bring the Jong Ro area and its inhabitants to life in a convincing fashion. The fight scenes are brief and somewhat one-sided, though exciting and shot from a number of interesting angles which give them a gritty, realistic feel. The director's style is measured and pleasingly unobtrusive, in sharp contrast to the flashy editing and gimmicky techniques of modern cinema.
The General's Son is a worthy film, and for the casual viewer, it's a good sample of the large body of work from its director. Whether taken as a slice of patriotic drama, or an action film with more depth than the genre usually offers, The General's Son deserves to be as well known outside Korea as some of the director's more artistically inclined and weighty efforts.
Movie Grade: 3.5/5
Review by James - BeyondHollywood.com
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