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Ko - production in Busan
  • No. 3
  • by Pierce Conran /  Jun 20, 2016

  • 1997104 MIN | Comedy, Crime
    DIRECTOR SONG Neung-han
    CAST SONG Kang-ho, HAN Suk-kyu, CHOI Min-shik, LEE Mi-yeon
    RELEASE DATE August 02, 1997
    CONTACT Free Cinema
    Tel : +82 2 741 0250
    Fax : +82 2 741 7697


    Gangster films have been a staple of Korean cinema for many decades, but to identify the trends and styles that have become the hallmark of the genre in the present day, one needs only to look back to 1997. That year, three landmark gangster dramas landed in the top ten local films of the year at the box office: LEE Chang-dong’s debut film Green Fish, KIM Sung-soo’s youth hoodlum pic Beat and the comedy-crime title No. 3.


    Unlike the other two titles, the director of No. 3, SONG Neung-han, didn’t go on to become a mainstay of the Korean film industry, but the actors who led the film became the country’s biggest and most enduring stars. HAN Suk-kyu, SONG Kang-ho and CHOI Min-shik would team up once again to record-breaking effect in 1999’s action blockbuster Swiri, but they had already made their presence felt two years earlier in SONG’s kinetic gangster film.


    In this off-kilter character piece, HAN plays a gangster dating an aspiring poet (LEE Mi-yeon), while CHOI is the prosecutor out to get him and SONG dances around the edges as a deranged hitman. While various altercations thrust these characters together, the plot is of only minor relevance as the various scenes offer different windows into a rapidly changing Korean society, fuelled by the irrepressible bravado and charisma of the leading trio.


    Looking back almost two decades on, No. 3 appears to presage much of what would follow in Korean film when it blew up at the turn of the millennium. Employing a bounty of cinema tricks which embellished the film’s colorful performances and easy energy, one can witness an industry pushing past its limitations, eager to break out and show the world what it can do. SONG’s work may not have had the polish that we would witness in subsequent years, from the likes of PARK Chan-wook and KIM Jee-woon, but it was a massive stylistic step towards the future, a future where Korean cinema has become synonymous with polished and inventive mise-en-scene.


    HAN had already made a name for himself in the box office hit The Gingko Bed the year before and 1997 proved to be his coming out year, as he also appeared in the successful melodrama The Contact and Green Fish, for which he received the Best Actor Award from the Blue Dragon Awards. Meanwhile, SONG and CHOI had appeared in a smattering of small roles but No. 3 was the first time that spectators were given a full taste of their abundant talents.

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