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.
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.