PicturePicture-wise I found Friend to have been given a pretty average transfer. Things start off soft and lacking in detail, but the subject matter does relate to 1976, so I assume there is a touch of Director's licence here. Gradually, as we are taken through the eighties and into the nineties, the image improves and noise and edge enhancement seem to give way to a sharper image with a more realistic colour palette - the sky at the beginning of the movie, when the boys are swimming in the sea, appears way too red. Perhaps this was deliberate, and merely suggested the coming storm that would meet the lads as they transcended adolescence into manhood. Whatever the cause, the image definitely improves as the movie progresses.
Contrast levels follow suit - lacking at the beginning of proceedings, with the youth's dark coloured school uniforms often appearing to meld together into one amorphous shape as the friends stand next to each other, but seeming to improve toward latter day events with contrast levels being much more realistic during the fish market scenes for example.
Overall, the anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 image is by no means poor, indeed I found it easy to ignore the less than perfect transfer and found myself being thoroughly immersed in the story.
SoundIf you like your film soundtracks to be full on 5.1 affairs, with bullets whizzing around your head at every opportunity, then you may be a little disappointed in Friend's slightly laid back style. As may be expected, this is mostly a dialogue heavy film - although it does have its moments! There are a few music tracks that, whilst never really utilising ones surround speakers, certainly manage to propel the listener back to a time when Blondie ruled the charts!
I listened to both Dolby Digital and DTS tracks, but could tell little difference between the two - even the “sub buster” moment, which is merely a cigarette falling to the ground, sounded very similar to me. Then again, with a movie soundtrack that is spread across the front three channels only, that's hardly surprising I guess.
As with image, it's not that the audio side of things really lets the side down - speech (for what it's worth to those of us unfortunate not to be able to understand Korean) is always clear and “intelligible”, and the few moments of real gusto are handled well, sounding full and rich. I always felt that everything was a little lacklustre though, but again, that's more down to the movie's style than anything else.
ExtrasRight, on to the supplemental features. First mention has to go to the packaging here - give me a hinged tin and I'm a happy man - don't ask me why, but there's a certain quality feel about having the weight of an Amaray inside a card slipcase... inside a solid feeling tin. As I write that I can't help but feel that I'm a little sad for feeling that way... but it's nice to know I'm not alone and many DVD collectors feel the same!
On to the extras proper - with no less than three audio commentaries, Friend is fairly bristling with movie info. Sadly, all the commentaries are in Korean with, unlike the main feature, no access to English subtitles. I guess the cost involved in providing this service simply isn't worth the effort. Which is a shame - I'm sure director and actors would have many interesting insight to share.
Disc two is fairly bursting with extras - interviews, behind the scenes features, location documentaries, deleted scenes - including some violent, stylized gang fighting, and more. Sadly, none of these features have English subs, which means that only Deleted Scenes and Outtakes are really the only extras that make any sense. Even the smart looking booklet that is included is filled with images from the movie, with all writing being in Korean.
Everything on disc 2 is shot in full screen, and I just have to mention the Robert Palmer “Bad Case Of Loving You” audio track that plays when you're at the extras menu. I played through the extras so much I'm hooked - it's a great track and if you want to hear it all the way through just choose the Telecine feature! Which, interestingly, must have something to do with the director's deliberate choice to make the movie look the way it does and how it was achieved.
I would suspect that Friend: Ultimate Edition lives up to it's title... as long as you understand Korean. For the rest of us, the potential is there, but just cannot be accessed. A shame.
VerdictFor half the movie I kept wondering why on earth the title, Friend, was in the singular - it does follow four friends after all. It wasn't until nearer the end that things finally twigged for me - and Friends has kinda been done, I guess.
Ultimate by name, and so nearly Ultimate by nature - Friend is a solid movie, superbly packaged in a great looking tin and let down only for us westerners by the lack of subtitles in the supplemental features.
Well worth a recommendation from me - get this Ultimate Edition whilst stocks last.
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