Nameless Gangster is a movie about a wannabe gangster who is a survivor. The only down side for American audiences is our lack of familiarity with Korean politics and social realities. Choi Ik-Hyun and three other officers takes bribes, which leads to an internal investigation. The head customs officer has dinner with the four men under investigation and asks them point blank for one person to become the fall guy. In Goodfellas, it’s when Henry returns from his first arrest and is rewarded by fellow mafiosos for not ratting them out. In this film however, it’s when Choi Ik-hyun (Choi Min-sik) goes to a high-end karaoke bar. There, Ik-hyun bumps into his former boss after a night celebrating his first drug deal. Harsh words lead to punches and Ik-hyun hands the man a gruesome beating.
The colleague tells Choi Ik-Hyun that Choi Hyung-Bae has connections with the Japanese yakuza and can become the facilitator to sell the heroin. The three men then have a meeting at a remote house. Choi Ik-Hyun notices that crime boss Choi Hyung-Bae shares the same family name. The men discuss their respective cuts from the distribution of the heroin. After the deal is agreed upon by all sides, Choi Ik- Hyun informs crime boss Choi Hyung-Bae that they are distant relatives and he knows his father. Min-sik has always been an actor who commands attention with stunning turns in films like Old Boy and I Saw the Devil. He has a kind of hang dog appeal. Even when he seems to be at the top, he doesn’t come across like a winner. In addition, he is a rumpled and unattractive man who lacks a moral compass; as a result, I was unable to generate any sympathy or rooting interest, and the supporting cast fell into the same category.
Choi Min-sik’s star continues to rise in the U.S. I imagine that this will be seen as one of his greatest showcases. It serves as a commentary on both time and place, and it does so with surprising wit. Even as the credits roll you’ll find yourself wondering if you’ve just witnessed the rise and fall of a devious genius. That being said, Nameless Gangster wasn’t as violent as I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, there were periods of violence during the movie. Even a few that were extreme but I expected more. Not that I’m complaining, rather I’m impressed. The violent elements of the movie added to the story rather than simply being violence just for the sake of it as is sometimes the case in similar films. That said, there are plenty of schemers, and double-crosses come that include guys knocking the hell out of one another with bottles and aluminum baseball bats to keep fans itching. So, it’s not all bad!
Like I’ve said a few time in this review, Nameless Gangster is filled with nods to American classics. His father introduces Choi Ik-Hyun to his son and tells his son to bow down to his distant uncle. The two men then begin their partnership in earnest. Choi Ik-Hyun, with his uncanny ability to gain favors from those around him, and crime boss Choi Hyung-Bae, with his physical prowess as the head of a feared criminal organization, are set to take over the Busan underworld, but will it last? Many meetings and dinners take place seemingly without relevance or time frame; who are these people, and why are they there? And where are they? I suppose I am asking way too many questions, but it could be the films fauly for setting up no cohesive conclusion to the plot. This was very crucial to one’s understanding of the story, because in an American gangster movie, he would have been toast quickly, and this would have been a film short. But, that is why I like writing for an Asian film site, as it gives me a cultural perspective I wouldn’t otherwise experience.