ATTACK THE GAS STATION (1999)
Director: Kim Sang-jin
Run time: 2h
Hammy and daft but so much fun it does not matter, this cult classic from the 90s is the ultimate guilty pleasure
We return to the reoccurring theme of Korea’s disenfranchised youth in Attack the Gas Station, with two hours of fights, feuds and doltish encounters from a single gas station location.
Released around the time of the IMF crisis, when Korea found itself in severe economic turmoil, such frustrations are vented through four aggressive hooligans and their slapdash plan to occupy a gas station.
No Mark (Lee Sung-jae), Bulldozer (Yu Oh-seong), Rockstar (Kang Sung-jin) and Paint (Yoo Ji-tae) have robbed and destroyed a gas station and find themselves bored in a convenience store.
The angry gang decide that they will return to the scene of the crime and rob the same gas station again. However, when they arrive the owner has grown wise in the wake of the last attack and has stashed the money away.
With nothing better to do, the gang decides to take the owner and his staff hostage, and serve customers, pocketing the cash for themselves instead.
The set-up is simple, but the gas station is a beacon for a range of conflicting characters to visit, including school bullies and members of other gangs.
They pass the time by forcing the manager to sing, kidnapping any customers that dare complain about the service and forcing various hostages to fight each other.
The situation grows increasingly absurd and escalates into more dangerous territory as the gang manage to make enemies of all who cross their path.
The entire film has this chaotic energy which makes it so deeply appealing. The performances are cartoon-like and completely over-baked. Yet, somehow the film manages to carry off this fault and make it a positive.
The situations that unfurl provide genuine hilarity, but it is a film you must be willing to go with. Embrace the zaniness and you will enjoy Attack the Gas Station, get bogged down with it and you will likely not.
We see flashes of some of the gang’s more respectable dreams and future – No Mark the budding baseball player, Rockstar the musician and Paint the (you can probably guess) painter. Dreams that could be fulfilled if the societal structure was different, it is implied.
It features a cast destined for big things, with all four leads going on to have fully fledged Korean cinema careers, perhaps most notably Yoo Ji-tae who would feature in Oldboy four years later. There is also a supporting role for Lee Yo-won, who plays Ggal-chi, a crew of the gas station, with Lee going on to feature in the excellent Take Care of My Cat in 2001.
The film had no problem finding an audience, it is the quintessential cult classic. It is a huge slice of 1990s. It could be a music video to a soft rock 90s band. The film is so 90s, it is basically a shell suit.
For that injection of nostalgia and a series of foolish laughs, there is a lot of fun to be had with Attack the Gas Station.
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