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cast: Lee Mi-yeon, Choi Min-sik, Han Seok-gyu, and Park Sang-myeon

director: Song Neung-han

102 minutes (15) 1997
widescreen ratio 16:9
Third Window DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
Well, this wasn't what I expected! Admittedly my experience of Korean cinema is somewhat limited, but any Hong Kong films I have had the pleasure of reviewing have been quite similar in style, but generally enjoyable nonetheless. No.3 (sometimes known as Gangster No.3) is quite clever, borderline eccentric and, most importantly, a damn fine flick.

Tae-Ju is promoted to position of number three in the Do Ka gang after somehow, despite his general ineptness, saving the life of his boss. This gives the hopeless henchman a taste of power and even though his career to this point had been no better than a glorified gofer, the sweet saccharine of power gives Tae-Ju delusions of grandeur.

He decides he wants to be the boss of his own gang, and sets about making this happen. He feels that being called number three is beneath him and gangster is an uncouth term for such a refined, erm, criminal. What sets this film apart from many of its contemporaries is the incisive parody of Triad culture and the number of sub-cultural references running throughout; such as the crooked policemen and the overtly unfavourable denunciation of the Japanese financial domination in the region.

This is satirical, funny and most of all a two-fingered salute at gang culture. The gang members' characters are made to look absurd as they strut around like proud cocks. Tae-Ju's crazy wife flits between poetry and promiscuity effortlessly and best of all is the wonderfully named Ashtray - so called after his favourite weapon - who is an Asian gangster of infinitely stupid proportions.

No.3 is fascinating parody of Korean and Japanese gang culture: it fuses nationalist pride with political misappropriation. In addition there is no little sex, comedic poetry and slapstick violence all of which serve only to accentuate to idiocy of the gang members. The closing scene has all of the above and is as fine a closing sequence to a movie as I seen this year.

DVD extras are sparse with the highlight being trailers for some other Third Window films. No.3 is in Korean with English subtitles.

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