You often hear that there’s a whole world (literally) between the Occident and the Orient. Hanging at Montreal’s Fantasia festival and watching a bunch of Asian movies proves it largely. What was last year’s biggest hit in North America? Why, it was “Star Wars – Episode One”, a quite visionary and entertaining but nonetheless old fashioned, bloated, made to please grandparents and their grand kids mainstream Hollywood film. But down in Korea, the biggest hit was “Attack the Gas Station”, sort of a “Fight Club” amongst gas pumps, a very fresh and Gen Xy flick packed with thrills and laughs. The film revolves around 4 young Korean men who have seen all their dreams and ambitions vanish. There’s a failed artist, a failed baseball player, the singer of a failed band and a failed bully. Their life is a dead end, and they’re bored as hell. And so they decide to attack a nearby all night service station. Why? Because it’s fun. Because they can. Why not?
The hoodlums, armed only with pipes clubs and a 2 by 4, rob the station and take the owner and his nerdy teenage staff hostage, then take over the pumps and the profits they generate. They’ll spend the whole movie at the station, pumping gas and filling their pockets, but it won’t all be smooth sailing. Things heat up when another street gang arrives to raise hell of its own, then it’s two blue boys in a squad car who show up… When and how will it end? Who knows, but our four anti heroes are certainly gonna try and make the most of it, mocking and abusing their hostages, having them fight each other or perform musical numbers, ordering some Chinese food… They’re kinda like Alex and his mates in “A Clockwork Orange”, or the Space Monkeys in “Fight Club”. They’re not really bad guys, they’re just disillusioned, borderline nihilistic youths taking their frustrations out on others.
This could make for a very bleak film, but Attack the Gas Station is all the opposite. It’s by far one of the most hilarious movies I’ve seen this year. It was written by Park Jun-woo and directed by Kim Sang-jin, whom you could call the Korean Tarantino. The film, his fourth, is overwhelmingly stylish, original and irreverent. It has more dazzling camerawork than you could ask for, and it’s amazing how inventive and wildly entertaining it remains, even though it’s all set in and around a gas station. The cast is uniformly wonderful, and the leads played by Lee Seong-jae, Yu O-sung, Kang Sung-jin and Yu Gee-tae are painfully cool; they’re “Reservoir Dogs” cool, no less. I don’t know if the movie will be released in North America, but even if it ain’t, you oughta try and find it in an Asian video store. It’s well worth the hassle.