There is no question that the Korean gangster film is one of the most prevalent and popular film genres in Korea and I would have been inclined to think that it was second only to melodrama but after a little research I find myself wondering whether gangster films are in fact the dominant genre in contemporary Korean cinema.
Korean Gangster Films at the Box Office (1996-2003)
Leading the pack was Kwak Kyung-taek's Friend (No. 1, 8,134,500), a nostalgic look at the friendship through the years of four boys from Busan. It's tale of conflicting loyalties, and it's settings, from 80s schools to the modern criminal underbelly of Korea's major port city were huge drawing factors for the film, which became, at that point, the highest grossing Korean film of all time. My Wife Is a Gangster (No. 2, 5,180,900) kicked off the gangster comedy melodrama trend and would spawn two sequels. Kim Sang-jin's third film was even more successful than his last. Kick the Moon (No. 4, 4,353,800) was the first of the year's many gangster comedies and was similar to Friend in that in mined school and gang conventions in a regional setting. Hi Dharma (No. 5, 3,746,000), which features gangsters in hiding at a buddhist monastery, and My Boss, My Hero (No. 6, 3,302,000), in which a gang captain goes back to complete high school, were both high concept gang comedies which would be followed by successful sequels. Last was Jang Jin's Guns and Talk (No. 7, 2,227,000) which featured a great script and strong performances from Shin Hyeon-Jun, Shin Ha-Kyun, Won Bin, and Jeong Jae-Young.
2001 was also the year that Korean films finally broke past the 50% market share and these six films accounted for 60% of that or 30% of all theater admissions throughout the year. Making this hoodlum coup all the more impressive, perhaps gangsters are good for the economy?
Korean Gangster Films at the Box Office (2004-2011)
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