Director Neung-han Song’s debut feature is a long-winded, overly complex and at times rather plodding gangster flick that unsuccessfully attempts to merge slap-stick and bawdy humour with overwrought violence. The story, for the most part, centres on Tae-ju as he is promoted through the ranks of his gang to No. 3 for his loyalty and courage. Tae-ju still harbours a desire to be No. 1, though. Things, unsurprisingly, don’t go according to plan and his attempts at further promotion are thwarted by all manner of kerr-azy situations and kooky characters - including a ruthless killer nicknamed Ashtray, so-called because he pummels his victims to death with, well, an ashtray.

The plot muddles along and while so much seems to be happening, the film never really goes anywhere and the myriad events never muster enough of anything to hold much interest. The tone is wildly off-kilter and as the story drags on, at times it is quite hard to follow as it jolts unevenly from violent action packed set-pieces to rather random and somewhat stilted sub-plots. While rival gangs vie for supremacy and attempts are made to explore the dynamics of the misfit gang members, you may find yourself struggling to care. Or stay awake. Little exists to really draw the viewer into the story and hold their attention and at 109 minutes, No. 3 is an arduous viewing.

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The film is interesting as a showcase for the likes of Han Suk-Kyu (The Scarlet Letter) and Song Kang-ho (The Host, Lady Vengeance) and it is interesting to see these actors in early roles. They do what they can with the material, and while it is evident they were destined for bigger things, neither can really breathe life into the rather flatly drawn and unappealing characters they portray here.

Somewhat bizarre respite comes in the form of Mi-yeon Lee as Tae-ju’s melodramatic girlfriend, who aspires to be a poet. Out of nowhere she embarks on an affair with a pretentious and socially inept writer, the result of which is curiously humorous, though ultimately unmoving. This sub-plot initially seems completely unrelated to anything else, however, it eventually affects events throughout the film, with none-too-surprising results.

Devoid of intrigue or any sort of real charisma, No. 3 is perhaps one for only the most ardent Korean gangster film buff.

Reviewed on: 27 Sep 2009
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A young gangster attempts to rise through the ranks.
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Director: Song Neung-han

Writer: Song Neung-han

Starring: Bang Eun-hee, Choi Min-sik, Han Suk-kyu, Lee Mi-yeon, Park Kwang-jung, Park Sang-Myeon, Song Kang-ho

Year: 1997

Runtime: 108 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea

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