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Bumchoiwaui junjaeng | Yun Jong-Bin, 2012
South Korea | 133 mins minutes
Star Choi Min-Sik in person at June 30 screening!
A portrait of Korea in the 80’s painted in pay-offs, stabbings, corruption, and bad blood, Nameless Gangster is, as Time Magazine said, “The Korean mob film Scorsese would be proud of.” Like Goodfellas, it’s a pitch-perfect recreation of an era when politicians, prosecutors, and mob bosses could only be told apart if you squinted real hard at their business cards. But unlike Goodfellas, this film is a merciless condemnation not just of the mob life but of Korea itself. In the 80’s, the economy was booming, the Olympics were in Seoul, the government was a military dictatorship, the gap between rich and poor was growing, and students protesting for a more equitable society were ruthlessly put down. All in all, it feels a lot like America today.
But all bad things must come to an end, and Nameless Gangster begins in 1990 when newly-elected president Roh Tae-Woo declares war against organized crime and arrests hundreds of gangsters. An ordinary hotel-room beating goes wrong, and it results in the arrest of corpulent, cringing, politically-connected mafia man Choi Min-Sik (Oldboy, I Saw the Devil). Once in prison, things flash back to 1982 to show where it all began. Choi is a low-level customs official going nowhere fast. He gets his hands on a shipment of heroin and manages to wrangle an introduction to local gangster Ha Jung-Woo (The Chaser, The Yellow Sea), and the two of them form a marriage of convenience that will turn them into the biggest crimelords in Busan.
But Choi’s character isn’t a gangster, not really, and that’s where the actor shines. He’s a scared, greedy, middle-aged man who will do anything to survive. An expert manipulator of Korea’s rigid social hierarchy, knowing exactly who is older than whom, and which mobster’s father was his high school classmate, his greatest weapon is his little black book full of contacts. Ha Jung-Woo, on the other hand, is coolness personified, the ultimate badass gangster whose boys will die for him. As push comes to shove, and the go-go 80’s give way to the corruption-busting 90’s, these two men have to fight to survive, sacrificing their dignity, their friends, and each other as they struggle to stay on top.