Korean Film Review – Nameless Gangster (범죄와의 전쟁)

Directed by Yun Jong-bin

Rating: 18

Genre: Crime thriller

Running time: 133 minutes

“The Korean mob film Scorsese would be proud of” is the description Time Magazine gave Yun Jong-bin’s No. 1 box office smash “Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time,” which pairs two of Korea’s biggest actors: Choi Min-sik from “Oldboy” and Ha Jeong-woo from “The Chaser.”

Based on the true story of the Korean government’s attempts to crack down on organized crime, “Nameless Gangster” is the story of corrupt customs officer Choi Ik-hyeon. The opening scene shows him being escorted in handcuffs and thrown into jail, being hounded by a prosecutor to confess to his crimes. But what crimes is he talking about? And how did Choi arrive at this situation? The film uses flashbacks to travel back and forth through time to tell the story.

Choi and his coworkers are no strangers to taking the odd bribe, but when the order comes down to fire one of the customs employees to appease the politicians, Choi is the one who gets the chop. After stumbling across a shipment of heroin, Choi meets up with one of the biggest gangsters in Busan, Choi Hyeong-bae, who happens to be a distant relative from the same Choi clan. After seeing Ik-hyeon’s ability to handle himself in certain situations, Hyeong-bae takes him under his wing and makes him part of his gangster family. As Ik-hyeon says, they are the perfect combination of brains and brawn.

With Ik-hyeon’s connections going all the way up to the highest echelons of government, some of the many franchises they take over are a nightclub in Busan and a casino. These deeds are aided by the Choi clan connections with the Japanese yakuza, taking their family and business to the next level and firmly cementing them as two of the biggest mobsters in Korea.

So much success obviously comes at a price, as some of their business encroaches on rival gangster Kim Pan-ho’s turf, forcing a gang war and a bid for power. With each side offering some serious beatings for the other, Ik-hyeon is caught in the middle at every turn. As the mob war escalates, so does pressure from the police and government, and Ik-hyeon is forced to choose between his blood family, his gangster family and his desire to be the boss.

As you would expect, the two lead actors are excellent and have a great chemistry. Choi Min-sik plays Ik-hyeon as a sympathetic character, whereas as Ha Jeong-woo’s Hyeong-bae is a scary, violent thug. With obvious nods to classic gangster movies such as “Goodfellas,” “Casino” and “The Godfather,” this is a solid gangster film that impresses and uses humor at times to distance itself and become its own film. Though I do feel like it could have been about 20 minutes shorter, “Nameless Gangster” is a thoroughly enjoyable film and an interesting insight into the true story of the Korean criminal underworld.

Categories: Reviews

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