I am pleased to introduce a new guest writer on Stone Cities, DaPowerz from the blog Wehaiyo! I have been fortunate enough to have worked with DaPowerz in the past (Drama Fever’s Good Doctor Drama Club) and have been continuously impressed with both her writing style and her thorough reviews (in other words I am tickled pink that DaPowerz agreed to guest post on Stone Cities)! Check out her review of the film Tough as Iron below. Cheers! ~Lore
Hello Stone Cities viewers, my name is Karen aka Powerz from Wehaiyo! and I’m thrilled to be a guest writer for Lore in Stone Cities. Lore and I recently wrote Good Doctor reviews together on Dramafever. Before I start, I want to let my readers know that this is a spoiler-free movie review.
Courtesy of Asian In New York and CJ Entertainment, I recently won tickets to watch the Tough As Iron movie starring Yoo Ah In, Kim Hae Sook, Kim Jung Tae, Kim Sung Oh, Lee Si Yeon, and Jung Yu Mi. I thought the movie was doing well since its release, but strangely, the movie theater was empty. There was another movie goer who came from The Face Reader theater across the hall and kept raving to me how great that Chinese movie was (excuse his naivety as The Face Reader is a Korean movie), but ten or so minutes into Tough As Iron, the movie goer left the theater. Another couple who joined minutes after the movie started, left some time later. Even if the movie wasn’t interesting, I know that watching the talented actors alone would be all worth it.
Yoo Ah In plays the character 깡철 (Ggang Chul), whose name means “Strong Iron” with the emphasis on strong. The movie title is called Ggang Chul Yi (pronounced: Gahng! Chuhl Ee) where the double ㄲ consonant in 깡 (ggang) is used for emphasis on the character 강 (gang), which means strong. With the addition of the subject particle 이, the word, “Strong Iron” becomes a name, in this case, for our main character, so that there is no mistaking the title for describing actual iron. Because of the English title of the movie, I tend to associate Strong Iron with Tough Iron.
While watching the story of Ggang Chul, I can’t help but compare Ggang Chul to Cha Tae Sik aka Ahjeosshi , the mister, from the 2010 movie, 아저씨 (The Man From Nowhere). To solidify my thoughts, actor Kim Sung Oh participates in both movies as a crazy gangster who is second-in-command and the younger brother of the boss. The only difference is that the Ahjeosshi (Won Bin) was once a black operations agent, so he can naturally fight menacingly well, but in the Tough As Iron movie, Ggang Chul ‘s friend, Jong Soo (Lee Si Yeon) hinted that Ggang Chul used to be a good fighter in high school. In the movie, Ggang Chul fights surprisingly well, but I wonder if he fights too well since he rarely fights others.
GGgang Chul is an ice laborer who is naturally poor and made even poorer because he has to take care of his mother, Soon Yi (Kim Hae Sook), who is stricken with Alzheimer’s disease. With Soon Yi’s impending surgery, GGgang Chul has to somehow come up with the money, but is adamant about not becoming a gangster to earn money like his friend, Jong Soo.
Set in the city of Busan, Seoul tourist, Soo Ji (Jung Yu Mi) encounters Ggang Chul a few times and GGgang Chul believes it is fate. He offers to show Soo Ji around (for money, of course), but breaks his promise due to his circumstances, standing her up every single time.
In his efforts to help Ggang Chul with the surgery money, Jong Soo forges Ggang Chul’s signature for a business loan with his gang, but the loan was nothing but a trick by Hwi Gon, the gangster who wanted Ggang Chul dead for witnessing Hwi Gon murder a Japanese sub-boss.
Interestingly, Hwi Gon stutters and shakes every time he gets nervous, which is acted out brilliantly by Kim Sung Oh.
Since the Japanese sub-boss is murdered, the main Japanese boss returns to Korea for the funeral and to investigate the sub-boss’ death. Somehow, Hwi Gon’s older brother, the main Korean boss, Sang Gon (Kim Jeong Tae) fails to kill the Japanese boss, but doesn’t have the guts to try again so he uses, more like threatens, Ggang Chul for the task.
I wondered why Sang Gon would ask a normal, non-gangster to kill a major boss for him, but then Sang Gon makes it clear to his brother, Hwi Gon, that it doesn’t matter whether Ggang Chul succeeds or not: Ggang Chul will die either way.
Originally, I thought the movie would be a sweet movie about Ggang Chul and his mother, but there is a lot of emphasis on the gang story. I understand that the Korean gangsters had a reason to kill their Japanese bosses because the Japanese controlled the illegal operations and insulted the Korean gang, but the Japanese gang also had a reason to insult the Korean gang due to the Korean gang secretly taking a 50% cut off of the total profits. I wanted to give Sang Gon and Hwi Gon the benefit of the doubt since they are humans faced with difficult decisions, but once they involve an innocent man like Ggang Chul into their business with the intention to kill him, I basically wanted Sang Gon and Hwi Gon to get what they deserve. Ggang Chul seemed like a regular man to me, but he surprisingly beats up Hwi Gon and his two gang members badly on Ggang Chul’s first try, sending Hwi Gon unconscious as Hwi Gon submerges into the water. Yet, no matter how tough Ggang Chul can be, he cannot, and does not wish to kill a person.
It is heartbreaking to see Soon Yi treat Ggang Chul like her husband, calling Ggang Chul her sweetie almost all the time, but there are moments when she is mentally clear, calling Ggang Chul her son. Ggang Chul can only cry and it’s touching that he always takes care of his mother without a single complaint. Throughout the movie, Soon Yi refuses to acknowledge her own name, calling herself actress Kim Tae Hee instead, in which Ggang Chul jokes that he would be Won Bin. Even with her degrading Alzheimer’s disease, Soon Yi acts like the coolest mom in the world with her round sunglasses and pretty outfits. Still, the plot seems to be going nowhere as Soon Yi is headed for surgery.
Ggang Chul’s relationship with Soo Ji was not realistic. Soo Ji has a set number of days to go on a trip to Busan, yet she never leaves Busan throughout the movie. Ggang Chul randomly goes to her hotel room and after complaining about his life, he makes a confusing move to kiss her, but understandably dumps her a couple days later. I would rather have Ggang Chul and Soo Ji have interest in each other, but not fully have a relationship until the end of the movie.
Ggang Chul’s friend, Jong Soo, is a good person, but because he lost his fingers in a printing press accident, he felt that he ran out of options to get a job, thus, secretly becoming a gangster for a living. It’s a good thing he didn’t have to kill anyone yet due to his low gang member status and I don’t want to see such an innocent person kill a man either.
With Soon Yi’s life on the line, how will this movie resolve? The action lies toward the end when Ggang Chul has no choice but to attempt to kill the Japanese boss at a hotel where he is celebrating his mother’s birthday. Will Ggang Chul succeed? The way the story is resolved was probably for the best, though I can’t understand why Hwi Gon is hell-bent on killing Ggang Chul when there are more important things to worry about like the Japanese boss and his men.
All-in-all, I liked the movie, but I expected more. I expected more heartwarming mother-son scenes and less gangster action. I’m still confused how Jong Soo can forge Ggang Chul’s name and name stamp on the loan documents and how Jong Soo was scammed. It was also not clear to me that Soon Yi’s condition was so bad that she needed surgery. One thing for sure is that all the actors played their roles so well. I can feel Ggang Chul’s pain, Soon Yi’s aloofness and happiness, Jong Soo’s conflict, Hwi Gon’s stutters and shakes, and Sang Gong’s calmness. The main cast is stellar. While the movie cannot match up to The Man From Nowhere in intensity and anticipation, there is a touch of humanity in Tough as Iron.
Referring back to the movie title, why is Ggang Chul so tough? The reason is all because of his love for his mother, Soon I.