Tough as Iron (Kangchul) (NR)

Action/Adventure 108 October 11, 2013
By Michael Nordine
As in most movies even tangentially related to organized crime, "family" has a dual meaning in Ahn Kwon-tae's Tough as Iron: There's the one you're born into and the one you do business with. A young man named Chul turns to the latter in order to help the former, as his ailing mother's medical bills are proving too much for him; the tension between the two is summed up in one succinct phrase courtesy of a colleague: "Becoming a gangster is the same as stabbing your father in the back." The title isn't an especially accurate description of the protagonist, and the film isn't much more adroit in navigating the gray area between these two worlds than he is. The real namesake may actually be Chul's mother, who suffers from dementia, constantly confuses her son for her deceased husband, and makes a third-act decision that irrevocably alters the course of her son's life. This maternal bond and the overwhelmingly masculine world of gangsters creates yet more tension for Chul to reconcile, and also spurs some of Tough as Iron's more engaging segments. Far better as a family drama than as a gangster picture, the film's muddled attempt at marrying the two distracts from its emotional center-- what works well isn't always what's focused on, and what's focused on is too familiar to carry the narrative on its own.
Kwon-Tae Ahn AHN Kwon-Tae, YOO Ah-In, KIM Hae-Sook, KIM Jung-Tae, KIM Sung-Oh CJ Entertainment


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