By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
While it's not much worse than its predecessor, Friend 2: The Legacy has none of the bromantic charm that made Friend, South Korean writer-director Kyung-Taek Kwak's 2001 gangster drama, the highest-grossing film in Korean history.
Like his original autobiographical hit, Kwak's sequel frequently devolves into chest-thumping hysterics, as when one mobster chucks another into a bookshelf for joking "I'll fix your mama's trampy ways." But the most compelling thing about Friend 2 is its trifurcated plot, a structural gimmick borrowed from The Godfather Part II.
Set in Seoul in 2001 and 2010, and Busan in 1963, the film follows three generations of mobsters: Lee Joon-seok (Yu Oh-seong), the big boss; Lee Cheol-ju (Joo Jin-mo), his father; and Choi Sung-hoon (Kim Woo-bin), Joon-seok's ward and the son of a rival gang leader.
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Shuffling between these three stories distracts from the film's greatest flaw: The ties that bind these tough guys are kittenishly weak. This lack of filial urgency is a major problem since Friend 2 is, like the John Woo films it's distantly related to, about macho disillusionment.
Kim and Yu's bond is the most meager. Sung-hoon ostensibly proves to Joon-seok that times are a-changin' when he pouts that his underlings don't need to be wined and dined, just paid. But while the meaning of Kim's theatrical leer is apparent, Yu's stoic reply, a Michael Keaton-like stare, could mean anything.
Kim and Yu have no chemistry, so nothing is lost when their characters' legacy is unremarkably discontinued.
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