Although you can't always judge a book by its cover, it's nice when the title tells the truth. The 1999 cult movie Attack the Gas Station earns its name roughly 90 seconds into its 109-minute running time, but it occasionally has trouble filling in the other 107 minutes. Essentially, it's an action/comedy about a group of four young Koreans who turn a simple gas station robbery into a lengthy hostage situation. True, there's a good bit of action and a moderate dose of comedy, but there's not always enough to make Attack the Gas Station a truly worthwhile viewing experience.
Here's the good news: the film has a terrific sense of atmosphere and really looks great. Filmed almost entirely at night under the low hum of florescent lights, Attack the Gas Station has a unique visual style that manages to keep your eyes interested. Although the characters leave a bit to be desired (more on that later), the interplay between many of the young men and their hostages isn't half bad. The pacing seems a little slow at first, but the deliberate course of the story makes it more believable. After all, for every over-the-top element thrown at the viewer, Attack the Gas Station has a certain realism and down-to-earth quality that makes it hard to hate.
However, it's also hard to really love. By and large, the characters aren't anything to write home about, especially the four robbers. Taken on their own terms, they might have been more interesting, but they've each been given a cookie-cutter backstory (artist, musician, etc.) that doesn't add much. While the overall intention of the film was to make a social statement (the film is described as "a political parable about Korean society"), it seems to have trouble with the balancing act.
Of course, the film could also be viewed as nothing more than a fun way to kill two hours. The problem is, it drags on about 30 minutes too long for your usual cult comedy classic. For every energetic scene, there's one that could have been left on the cutting room floor. Jokes and slapstick are often repeated more times than needed. Additionally, some of the gags just aren't all that funny in the first place. Still, Attack the Gas Station deserves something of a handicap---after all, it's not only five years old, but there's also a huge cultural barrier here. For the most part, social satires---no matter how successful---tend to work best in the present, and don't always age as gracefully as most other films.
By its own merit, though, Attack the Gas Station still manages to keep its head above water. It's not always firing on all cylinders, but at least it tries pretty hard. Unfortunately, this film has travelled a rough road to the world of home theater. As long-time readers of DVD Talk may have realized, Attack the Gas Station has already been reviewed twice, for separate DVD releases. Although this third time isn't a total charm, there's enough here to make this version the one to hunt down if you're looking. This film and disc alike are still rough around the edges, but this release from Media Galleries is a baby step in the right direction. With that said, let's see how this disc stacks up, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
The good news is: the 1.85:1 widescreen transfer looks very good. The bad news is, it seems to be the same non-anamorphic transfer of a previous release. By now, you'd think a production company would attempt to enhance this film for widescreen TVs, but it looks like that's not going to happen anytime soon. Still, this is a good-looking transfer that is relatively clean and clear. Colors are bold and vivid, and grain is kept to a minimum. Image detail is fairly high, making this transfer one of the disc's overall highlights. Sure, it could be better, but it's not a bad effort.
Likewise, the Dolby 5.1 Surround presentation gets the job done. One of this disc's new offerings is a 5.1 English mix, so that's a bonus if you're a fan of language dubbing. I'm not, so I stuck with the original Korean mix, which offered clear dialogue and good ambience overall. Comparing the two mixes, it seemed like the Korean mix had a little more punch, but it could have just been recorded at a slightly louder volume. Of course, there's English subtitles present too, but they don't always match up to the new dub. Since I'm not fluent in Korean, I can't say for sure which is more accurate, but there are enough differences to make it worth mentioning.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
The presentation here is very basic, featuring slightly animated menus with smooth navigation and simple layout design. The film itself has been divided into 18 chapters, and no layer change was detected during playback. All of the bonus features are presented in fullscreen and non-anamorphic widescreen formats. The packaging is also very simple, as this single-disc release is housed in a standard black keepcase. A chapter insert is also included.
Although the included bonus features are slim, at least we can understand them this time around. In the 2002 release, the extras for Attack the Gas Station were presented in Korean with no subtitles, rendering them as useless as Braille on a drive-thru ATM. Here, they're presented with English subtitles, starting with a short Behind-the-Scenes Featurette (10 minutes). It's not as in-depth as your average featurette, but it's nice to see the cast and director in high spirits as they discuss the production and meaning behind the film. There are also a series of Character Bios which explain more about the four main characters, though I'd have liked to see some cast and crew credits, too. Next up is the film's Theatrical Trailer and a very curious Film Festival Promotion Trailer which includes a bit of crude claymation for good measure. Although I would have liked to see a subtitled commentary track or a few more meaty supplements, what we get helps to support the film a little.
If you haven't seen this film by now but you'd like to give it a shot, this looks to be the version to beat. With an above-average technical presentation and a few nice bonus features, it's just about the best way to experience Attack the Gas Station. Although I didn't find the movie to be extremely memorable or always entertaining, there are a few bright spots that make it worth a look. The price is too steep to recommend this one as a blind buy, but it's worth a trip to the video store. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is mild-mannered art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.