I didn’t really know what to expect from Attack the Gas Station, Kim Sang-jin’s tour-de-force about a group of young hoodlums who hold up a gas station and then, bored the next day, go back and hold up the same station, with some unexpected results. It stars, apparently, a who’s who of South Korean actors, who went on to have pretty decent careers of their own after this film. All told, it’s a pretty solid production, but I still wasn’t too sure what to expect. One thing was for sure; I wasn’t expecting it to be nearly this much fun. I liked the hell out of Oldboy, and even 3-Iron, and those films do have that special something that makes them great films, but Attack the Gas Station was just flat-out entertaining the whole way through.
Right from the film’s beginning, the style of the film is already given to us. We zoom through the streets of whatever Korean city this takes place in, before we roll into the gas station itself, and quickly get used to the natural order of things that is about to be upset. Then, the camera flips forward and upside-down, before righting itself to show the gang of hoodlums that are to be our pseudo-protagonists. It’s kinetic, unusual camerawork for the beginning of a film, and it serves to shock you into an alert state, which is then solidified with the chaotic frenzy that is the gang’s first hit on the gas station. Right from the first ten minutes, we’re invested in the film; that’s quite an achievement for a film to do. The film’s look and feel is very diverse; there’s a lot of color in a lot of places, but not to the over-saturated levels of films like Suspiria – it’s all fully real, rather than being ethereal, even with the unnatural color and lighting scheme that makes the world of the film outside the gas station look so green and steamy. Just look at the four hoodlums up on the poster; each has a unique color scheme all their own, and no two of them share a look between them. They’re all diversified, as are the rest of the characters in the film (with the exception of the actual gang that shows up later in the film – they’re intentionally all wearing dark jackets, which makes them feel like one amorphous blob of a character, rather than having too many differently unique people all come scattering across the screen at once).
What really makes this film work so well is the mood. It’s not moody; it’s pretty much the opposite of moody. It’s alive, and breathing heavily, bouncing all around the screen with an endless reserve of energy, and a great sense of humor to lighten the feel even more than it already is. As long as you don’t have an irrational hatred of subtitles (and you know who you are if you do), this will be a surprisingly engaging and frenetic film to experience. I’m actually a little sad that this was removed from later editions of the Book; I think this should still be on there. This was a complete surprise for me, and I can only hope it will be for you too.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10