[ENTERTAINMENT]What's Behind the Success of 'Friends'?

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[ENTERTAINMENT]What's Behind the Success of 'Friends'?

The domestic film "Chin-gu" ("Friends") has taken Korea by storm, drawing 3.41 million viewers to date. "Friends" is a story of four adults who were childhood friends, and the movie focuses on two characters who are now in rival gangs.

While some critics have lampooned "Friends," their objections seem to have fallen on deaf ears; the crowds keep coming.

Everywhere you go to in Korea, everybody appears to be talking about the movie. Men in their 30s and 40s, who often shun the cinema, are going in droves in lunch breaks or after work.

One word of caution: It may not be a good idea for men to take a date to this movie; the stars are just a bit too handsome.

Kim Jin-suk, an office worker in his 30s, said, "In this horrible world of the survival of the fittest, I feel so stressed out. But this movie is like a shelter where I can let go all of the stress for a while."

In spite of one critic's accusation that the movie displays slovenly editing and storytelling, the allure of "Friends" in Korea is easy to understand.

For one thing, the story of the friendship among the four men appeals to Korean men's nostalgia for their childhood days when they and their friends were equals, undivided by competition to succeed and provide. The film is set in Pusan in the 1970s and 1980s, another reason for its popularity among those in their 30s and 40s.

Cho Hyung-joon, a cultural critic, remarked, "Those grown-ups feel nostalgic for the 1970s, in that then they were all the same. Now, they have different social status, and they cannot go back to the times when they were all equals. That's why they find relief in this film."

Rather predictably, some commentators are saying that the movie is a "social syndrome."

Chung Jin-hong, a professor at the Korea Art Institute, calls "Friends" an example of the "tipping point" theory, whereby a trend or product is infectiously taken up by the masses.

"'Friends' is like a virus. Once people are attacked by this virulent virus, they keep talking about it," says Mr. Chung.

We have seen this "virus" at work elsewhere. A Korean Web site, called I Love School, which allows old schoolmates to reconnect, can be understood as the same thing, according to Mr. Chung.

He added: "Though cutting-edge digital technology comes in handy, people sometimes pine for the past, when everything went slowly. The film also kindled people's nostalgia."

But worries have been voiced from unexpected quarters. Seok Myung-hong, one of the producers of the film, said, "I want people to focus on the friendship, instead of glorifying the violence in the movie. The gangsters are only gangsters; they cannot be heroes."

Jeering or cheering, one thing about the film is clear. Korean male thirtysomethings nostalgic for the past will turn to their buddies and say, "We are friends, aren't we?"

by Park Jeong-ho

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