Attack The Gas Station Film Review
Attack the Gas Station is a 1999 crime-comedy film directed by Kim Sang-Jin, starring Yoo Ji-tae (Oldboy), Yu Oh-seong (Friend) and Yoo Hae-ji(Moss, Woochi). This film hasn’t been released on DVD in the UK, but I tracked down a copy from America after watching the trailer on the internet. I’m not one for over the top comedies, with lots of youngsters fighting but what drew me to Attack the Gas Station was the fact that the entire film is set at a gas station (petrol station for UK readers) which I thought was a big selling point and quite minimal, less is more. So although I’m not a huge fan of this type of film, I was willing to give this a watch. Here I give some synopsis of the film, without giving too much away, and some of my thoughts.
Attack the Gas Station opens with what is one of most interesting opening scenes I have seen in a Korean film. It starts with a bumper view from a car driving through the streets of Seoul, with a rock type soundtrack, which then arrives at a petrol station to fill up. A rotating camera then focuses on a group of four guys (late teens-early 20’s) with baseball bats who decide to attack the petrol station, smashing signs and windows, and then making the owner hand over handfuls of cash, cue the title scene.
A few days later the guys are outside the petrol station walking towards it, when the screen pauses and a question comes up, us viewers asking the question, ‘Why are they robbing the gas station?’ The film then cuts to the guys in a noodle bar one asks, ‘Isn’t there anything fun to do?’ Another replies, ‘Let’s rob the gas station again.’ They all give it a think and leave their noodles and exit. The film then cuts back to the previous paused screen with text now saying, ‘Just because.’
With no money kept at the premises now because of the previous robbery the gang imprison the station workers in an upstairs room guarded by one of the gang members and decide to fill up customer’s cars themselves and keep the money, it’s not a self service station, the cars are filled up by the workers. It doesn’t happen that easily with customers complaining that the service was poor so some customers were locked in car boots as punishment for complaining. The gang faces many issues, even another gang who demand that they see one of the lads who works at the station as he ‘owes’ them money, actually robbing the innocent lad, but end up getting beaten up by the car wash machine when tricked, by the main gang of the film, and are imprisoned with the others. The film deals with police, ordering a takeaway, another fight scene with another gang, who get imprisoned with the others, singing and dancing to keep the gang entertained. So the film has a lot of action and different types of characters, although some are very small parts.
The film is actually funny, from the station owner having to fix many phones after they get broken each time to stop him ringing the police, to the strange dances and singing and one of the highlights for me is one of the gang members drinking a can of Pepsi thinking that it’s a Korean drink, because the Pepsi logo looks like the Taegeuk of the Korean flag. The film has an excellent style to it, i.e. the bumper camera and spinning camera at the beginning and the colours are very bright and sharp and the film is spread out evenly and consistent.
But what the film is about is the social issues that exist in South Korea. Flashbacks show us what the gang members were up to when younger, including one who wanted to be an artist but his parents dismissed it as a waste of time and pointless and shows the father smashing his paintings up, to the guy who wanted to play baseball but didn’t have the help he needed to support him. The beginning of this article I write about the opening scene, ‘Why are they robbing the gas station? Just because.’ Well it’s because in 1999 South Korea was in an economic gloom and car manufactures were sacking thousands of people, putting many young people out of work, hence why the gang are jobless and bored and have nothing to do, so decide to attack big businesses that only look after themselves. People were buying American cars and Japanese phones, hence smashing the phones up, and drinking cans of Pepsi and giving money to the Americans rather than drinking Korean drinks and supporting the Korean economy. Customers were rude and bossy highlighting the line between rich and poor, police trying to get free petrol because they are police and they seem to believe they can do so, and the silly gang culture that still exists, with kids saying they are number 1 and everybody else should do as they are told. And this is what’s interesting. It’s not actually about attacking a gas station. As one person put it on IMDB, the gas station represents Korea and the people represent North Koreans and South Koreans.
The end scene in the film is also very important. There is a huge fight between 3 gangs, the main four man gang and two other gangs associated with characters that appeared in the film and the police. During the fight one of the gang members starts to sprays petrol everywhere all over the people fighting, who stop. He pulls out a cigarette lighter and threatens to light the petrol and kill everybody but slips away with the others and leaves the scene. Then everybody at the station gets out lighters and matches to protect themselves as petrol and fire don’t mix and they all start to back off each other. This scene I feel is a great ending to the film and pulls together the social issues and maybe could be viewed as a standoff between North and South Korea ready to blow everybody up.
In all this is a great film maybe some understanding of Korean culture and history might be needed if you look deep into the film but even without this it’s still a great film with plenty of laughs and action.
Have you seen this film? What did you think? Did you agree with our review? Are their similar films you would recommend? Let us know in the comments.
Written by Ed.