Released in South Korea back in 2012, Nameless Gangster has become one of the most popular and awarded films in a long history of Korean gangster movies. The film is set during a period of corruption and crime in the 1980s and recounts the rise and fall of father turned gangster Choi Ik-hyun (Min-sik Choi).
Choi is the star of the show once again, portraying Choi Ik-hyun as a bumbling yet clever man whom the audience immediately gets behind. The way he deals with his sudden rise to power, thanks to his relative Choi Hyung-bae (Jung-woo Ha), is quite believable. Ha is also a very capable actor, making Choi Hyung-bae both a cool and terrifying character. Kim Sung-kyun, Kim Hye-eun and Cho Jin-woong are also honourable mentions for their portrayals of the second-in-command, club owner and rival gang leader respectively.
The film’s settings, both cultural and physical, are the other stars of the show. Scenes of dilapidated houses, neon-lined streets and K-Pop clubs give the film an undeniable atmosphere that would be hard to find in any Western film. Cultural objects and customs play a huge part in the film, which add much to the flavour. Nameless Gangster is a stylistically wonderful film. It looks and sounds great.
It is also, of course, a pretty violent film. Characters get hit over the head so many times and with so many hard objects, that I’m surprised the actors didn’t end up with concussions. From the very first scene, in which someone gets bashed with a telephone, the violence is visceral and well choreographed. The mass fight scenes do get a bit chaotic for the screen but definitely serve to amp up the action. The ferocious climax of the film is thrilling, but thanks to a lull before the credits, ultimately feels unsatisfying.
Nameless Gangster has a mix of slightly black comedy, light-heartedness and violence that strikes a good balance. Choi Ik-hyun’s drunken behaviour and general incompetence is the source of the majority of the laughs. The film’s plot is easy to follow, yet complex, but suffers from some minor translation errors in the English subtitles that affect understanding. The film also suffers from slight issues with the camera, being placed confusingly at some points and going out of focus in others. These issues, while slightly annoying, don’t get in the way of your enjoyment of the film.
The film does feature some scenes that would have best been cut: the lengthy epilogue, for example. While the action is pretty well paced, by slightly after the middle I began to feel the movie was dragging on a bit too slowly. Nevertheless, the other aspects of the film make it well worth sitting through. Don’t watch it while hungry though, as the images of beautiful Korean food that appear in a large number of scenes will make you desperate to leave and find the nearest restaurant.
Nameless Gangster continues the tradition of Korean gangster films in spectacular fashion, a true triumph for director Yoon Jong-bin.
Reviewed by James Rudd
Rating out of 10: 7
- The OzAsia Festival runs 13-29 September 2013