A hit in its native South Korea, Nameless Gangster is a neatly presented mob film with substance and intelligence. It starts with its central character, Choi Ik Hyun, being arrested and reports of the capture are shown on televisions all over the country and his crimes exposed. Flash back ten years and we come to understand that he hasn’t always been a mob boss. He starts off as a corrupt customs officer, taking bribes in the ports of Busan, doing well until one day he is forced to be a scapegoat. But then that night he discovers a stash of heroin, tries to sell it to a local gangster topdog, Choi Hyung Bae, and Ik Hyun’s journey begins.
A lot of people mention Goodfellas. Or even The Godfather. Nameless Gangster is dubbed as good as Scorsese’s best gangster movie. Granted, the movie is indeed well done, helmed by director Yoon Jong Bin and stars Choi Min Sik, whose comeback performance is, no doubt, higly anticipated after 2010’s I Saw the Devil. He is paired with Ha Jung Woo (The Chaser, The Yellow Sea), who is arguably one of the best young Asian actors working today. Choi’s Ik Hyun doesn’t look like a big gangster boss. He can be a demanding bully at one time and a pitiful, weak man begging for forgiveness the next. He does whatever it takes to survive. In contrast, Ha’s Hyung Bae is tough, composed, in command. He doesn’t grovel, doesn’t compromise. Both actors are awesome in their roles, as expected, but Kwak Do Hwan, who plays a tall, heavy-figured prosecutor who violently bullies Ik Hyun, is quite memorable as well. The movie takes us back and forth between the 80’s, the time when Ik Hyun is on his way to the top, and the 1990, the time of his arrest and despite being 133 minute long, the movie is rather well-paced.
However, I can’t help feeling been there, done that. The story doesn’t interest me that much and I can more or less know what scene is going to come next. On another note, the movie is full with gangsters doing gangsters’ stuff, smashing bottles on heads, people constantly hit with pipes, yet it doesn’t have that raw, gritty violence that the Korean cinema so beautifully masters. And unconsciouly, I miss that.
Yes the movie is well-made, in fact, I’m having a hard time convincing you to not watch it. But then again, why should I? It’s a good movie, and those of you who feel like watching some 80’s gangsters betraying and whooping each others’ asses, you’re surely going to enjoy it a lot.