Attack the Gas Station! (1999)

South Korea

4*
Director:
Kim Sang-Jin

Screenwriter:
Park Jeong-woo

Director of Photography:
Jung Woo Choi

Running time: 113 minutes

Original title:
주유소 습격 사건
Transliterated title:
Juyuso seubgyuksageun

This film is a gas! (I know, I know…) With the same kind of adrenaline in its visuals that reminded me of Run, Lola, Run, this  South Korean film is simple-minded but dedicated to its goal of providing sheer riproaring entertainment. In the opening scene, the film’s four main characters, a group of guys fresh out of high school, rob a gas station and proceed to destroy the entire property in a rampage of destruction. In the following scene, which takes place a few days later, the guys are back to rob the same station again, but this time they have spent their money on clothes that make them seem a little more respectable.

The problem is that the manager of the gas station has taken precautions and tells them that his wife has taken the day’s profits with her and now she can’t be reached. The director, however, decides to show us early on that the manager is lying and has hidden the money somewhere in the office. As a result, the four would-be robbers look like even greater buffoons since they fail to search the office. But more on their stupidity later.

The action-packed first scene of Attack the Gas Station! raises the question how the film could possibly sustain its rhythm. Of course, it can’t, but we are provided with some very cool visuals, from upside-down shots and shots taken from very low angles, to shots in which the camera is pointed vertically upward, or tilted, with wide-angle lenses, or taking the place of a character being kicked in the face by a boot heel that comes straight at us. There are also some rather silly uses of the slow motion, but all in all the film has a great time testing out some visual tricks and doesn’t bore us with repetition.

The story is not complicated. The four guys take the manager of the gas station and his three employees hostage, and when anybody pulls up to have gas put in their car, the robbers take the money for themselves, while they are waiting for the manager’s wife to return home and deliver the money to them. Random scenes of chaos erupt when customers are rude or when a local gang comes to collect money from a high school boy who works at the station. But whatever happens, the leader of the four robbers has a very serene quality about him and even though the four of them might not have a clue how to handle the situation, they make it clear that they are in control – and, somehow, they usually are.

The characters they come up against are hardly the rough underworld types, although there is initially much talk about the gang leader, Yongari, but he turns out to be a complete whimp. One of the guys, Bulldozer, keeps watch over the steadily growing group of hostages, but he behaves like a bad imitation of a Toshiro Mifune character, baring his teeth, pulling faces and forcing people to crush their skulls into the floor.

But the film has some wonderful moments, and they usually involve music. Halfway through the film, a big fight scene is accompanied by a techno version of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons (Spring)”, and later on, when the hi-fi breaks down, the Yongari gang performs in the background, and this musical number stands as the highlight of the entire film, for it is unexpected, well-executed and highly entertaining.

The film doesn’t quite know how to keep itself busy in the second half, but when all the different factions come together during the climax, and the four main characters’ back stories have been established, we get a wonderful combination of form and content that makes for a very appropriate ending to a film that never takes itself too seriously.

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