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'Buddies' tells story of lost youth, friendship

Posted March. 22, 2001 17:27,   


The four kids who played together in Pusan in 1974 had no natural prejudices. It didn`t matter if they were good students, it didn`t matter if their families were rich or poor, they were all close comrades held together by a common bond. But when they became high school students, a low barrier was set up between them, and after they graduated, a concrete wall arose that they could not surmount. Would the students who were separated due to the differences in their character and family backgrounds be able to stay friends to the last? It seems unlikely after one of them shouts, ``You live like you want, I`ll live like I want.``

The four friends are Chun-Suk (Yoo Oh-Sung), a good fighter with iron nerves; Dong-Soo (Jang Dong-Gun), not as good a fighter as Chun-Suk, but a battler in his own right; Sang-Taek (Suh Tae-Hwa), a model student who knows nothing but studying; and Chung-Ho (Chung Un-Taek), a chatterbox who is in on everything. As boys, they spent time swimming in the local stream, chasing the vehicle that sprayed antiseptic on the street, falling in love with Jin-Sook (Kim Bo-Kyung), vocalist in an amateur rock band, roller skating at the local rink, and engaging in gang fights in the village theater. However, in the 1990s their relationship moved in a new direction, making it awkward for them to call themselves friends. This despite the fact they had promised to stay friends to the last, citing the Chinese ideogram for ``Buddies,`` which means a close and long-time friend.

Narrator Sang-Taek recalls, ``Even Chun-Suk and Dong-Soo, who I believed were on a similar path, began to go their separate ways from a certain point.`` Chun-Suk and Dong-Soo, abandoning their old friendship, eventually engage in a knife fight that no one could have predicted.

Their conflict surfaces slowly and the film even takes on the character of a gangster movie. ``What do I mean to you? Am I your errand boy?`` says Dong-Soo, unable to overcome a complex against his friend and finally becoming the sworn enemy of Chun-Suk. ``Buddies`` describes the conflict between the two men in tense, dramatic fashion. There have been many movies about friends from childhood, but there are few movies like ``Buddies`` that successfully raise the story to the level of human drama while mixing it with Korean-style action.

Jang Dong-Gun`s performance is passable, but Yoo`s acting is first rate. Whenever Yoo appears on screen, audience members will feel a shiver run through their bodies. The source of his strength appears to be a ``mysterious energy`` that only Yoo can create. The Korean movie world has uncovered a strong young actor thanks to ``Buddies.``

Hwang Hee-Yeon benotbe@donga.com