When I'm watching a foreign film, I occassionally find myself scratching my head and thinking, "That didn't make any sense. I wonder if it's a cultural thing, or if something was lost in the translation?" I did quite a bit of head scratchin' while watching the Korean hit "Attack the Gas Station!".
The plot of "Attack the Gas Station!" is almost insultingly simple. A group of four bored youths (played by Lee Seong-jae, Yu O-sung, Kang Sung-jin, and Yu Gee-tae) vandalize and rob a gas station. Apparently impressed with the amount of money that they were able to steal, this same group returns to the same gas station to rob it again. But, this time, the manager (Park Yeong-gyu) has hidden the cash, and insists that his wife has it. Angered at the thought of coming away empty-handed, the four boys take the manager and his staff hostage. However, customers continue to come to the station.
This gives the young punks an idea. They pose as gas station attendants, pump the gas, and simply pocket the cash. And any customer or passer-by who provokes them is added to the group of hostages, who are assaulted and tortured. As the night wears on, this brash group takes many hostages and makes many enemies, leading to a violent finale.
Apparantly, there are a lot of cultural issues in "Attack the Gas Station!" that I just didn't get. I'd seen the film described as an action/comedy, but I found it neither exciting nor funny. The film is well-shot and there is always something happening, but the lack of a true story leads to redundancy, and boredom for the viewer. The introduction is interesting (and the film truly lives up to its name, as a gas station is attacked in under 2 minutes!), but the film eventually devolves into customer, hostage, customer, hostage, etc. There are several fight scenes, but there is nothing about them to set them apart from other films.
Along with the lack of any real story, the film offers very little in the way of characterization. The four robbers each have an individual way of dealing with the situation, and one is clearly identified as the leader, but that's really all that we learn about them. When the film attempts to explain why these boys turned to crime, the reasoning lacks detail and feels tacked on. (Admittedly, this may, once again, be a cultural thing.) As for the other characters, they are mostly stereotypes, although a certain hot-headed delivery boy does break away from the pack.
The box art for "Attack the Gas Station!" claims that the film is "(a) satire...and a tongue-in-cheek analogy of social turmoil in contemporary South Korea." That may be so, but it is also a run-of-the-mill action film, that would go straight-to-cable if it were made in America. The film offers some interesting moments (the best one involving a baseball!), but overall, the movie is a disappointment, especially when compared to other recent Korean films.
"Attack the Gas Station!" is presented in a letterbox format on this DVD, but it is not enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image has been formatted at 1.85:1, but it is difficult to tell if this is the original aspect ratio. During several shots, the image looks squeezed, with objects and characters falling out of the frame. The picture is sharp, but there is a noticable amount of grain in most shots. Also, there are visible defects from the source print, and the image is unstable at times. However, the colors are very good, as the reds and oranges really stand out and the hues are never faded-looking. This is certainly not a perfect transfer, but is most likely the best that Tai Seng could do with their source materials.
This DVD features two primary audio tracks, one in Cantonese, the other in Mandarin. Both are presented in Dolby Digital Stereo Surround. The tracks are clean, displaying only a slight amount of hiss. The audio is well-balanced, and the dialogue is always clear. But, there is very little in the way of stereo effects or surround sound action, as most of the audio is concentrated in the center channel. The English subtitles are very clear and easy to read.
There are no true extras on this DVD, as the only additional features are two trailers for other Tai Seng titles.