ContactSales: Showbox, Seoul (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: South Korea, 2 Feb 2012.
Presented by Showbox/Mediaplex (SK), Produced by Palette Pictures (SK), Showbox/Mediaplex (SK). Executive producer: Yu Jeong-hun. Producers: Park Shin-gyu, Yu Jeong-hun.
Script: Yoon Jong-bin. Photography: Go Rak-seon. Editing: Kim Sang-beom, Kim Jae-beom. Music: Jo Yeong-uk. Art direction: Jo Hwa-seong. Costumes: Gwon Yu-jin, Im Seung-hui. Sound: Jeong Gun, Kim Seok-won, Kim Chang-seop. Action: Heo Myeong-haeng. Special effects: Jeong Do-an, Kim Tae-ui. Visual effects: Kim Jun-hyeong (Digital Idea).
Cast: Choi Min-shik (Choi Ik-hyeon), Ha Jeong-u (Choi Hyeong-bae), Jo Jin-ung (Kim Pan-ho), Don Lee (Pimp Kim), Gwak Do-won (Jo Beom-seok, Busan public prosecutor), Kim Seong-gyun (Park Chang-u, Hyong-bae's deputy), Kim Jong-su (Jang Ju-im, Ik-hyeon's customs colleague), Kim Jong-gu (Jo Bong-ju, customs chief), Gwon Tae-won (Heo Sam-shik, hotel owner), Song Yeong-chang (Han, defence lawyer), Kim Hye-eun (Yeo, nightclub manager), Kim Yeong-seon (Ik-hyeon's wife), Kim Gwang-hyeon (team member), Lee Cheol-min (Hyeong-bae's no. 6), Jang U-jin (Seo), Kim Sang-il (Choi Du-hyeon), Go In-beom (Choi Mu-il, Hyeong-bae's father), Yu Sang-jae (Hyeong-bae's no. 11), Kim Jin-hyeok (Hyeong-bae's no. 5), Kim Eung-su (Choi Ju-dong, Seoul public prosecutor), Park Seong-gwang (MC at birthday party), Nakajima Takeshi (Ganeyama Jaidoku, Japanese yakuza), Lee Seung-min (soldier's wife), Park Byeong-eun (soldier).
Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time 범죄와의 전쟁 : 나쁜놈들 전성시대
Period crime drama
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 133 mins
Directed by Yoon Jong-bin (윤종빈 | 尹鐘彬)
By Derek Elley
Fri, 06 April 2012, 14:05 PM (HKT)
Okay '80s gangster saga with strong performances but no real drama or freshness. Asian and genre events.
South Korea, 13 Oct 1990. Following President Roh Tae-woo's declaration of a crackdown on organised crime, Busan businessman Choi Ik-hyeon (Choi Min-shik) is arrested for embezzling billions of won from hotel construction companies, and is also charged with intimidation, kidnapping and assault. Busan public prosecutor Jo Beom-seok (Gwak Do-won) is in charge of the investigation, and especially the murder of hotelier Heo Sam-shik (Gwon Tae-won) by mobster Kim Pan-ho (Jo Jin-ung), with whom Ik-hyeon allegedly was connected. Back in March 1982, Choi was a Busan customs officer who, along with colleagues, was already taking bribes and pilfering goods. After discovering 10 kilograms of heroin in a warehouse one night, he and colleague Jang Ju-im (Kim Jong-gu) approach a friend of Jang's, gangster Choi Hyeong-bae (Ha Jeong-u), to sell it to Japan's yakuza, with whom Hyeong-bae has ties. Ik-hyeon discovers that the younger Hyeong-bae is also a member of the same Choi family clan from Gyeongju and the two form a close relationship. Ik-hyeon leaves his customs job and becomes a full-time businessman, with Hyeong-bae taking care of the underworld side and Ik-hyeon protecting him with his high-level contacts. In the mid-'80s the two forcibly take over a nightclub run by Miss Yeo (Kim Hye-eun) that is on the turf of Pan-ho. Following his humiliation, Pan-ho has the club raided by the police and Hyeong-bae arrested, though Ik-hyeon gets Hyeong-bae released by using the Choi clan connection with Seoul public prosecutor Choi Ju-dong (Kim Eung-su). In May 1987, Ik-hyeon and Hyeong-bae take their business to the next level, formally linking up with Japan's yakuza and having a connection with a hotel-casino, the Daedong, that is also on Pan-ho's turf. Pan-ho threatens a gang war with Hyeong-bae, and Ik-hyeon is forced to decide where his loyalties and self-survival lie.
Strongly cast, professionally assembled and with a script full of interesting characters, Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time 범죄와의 전쟁 : 나쁜놈들 전성시대 still feels like a movie punching above its weight, with little of the dramatic clout that could be expected from its ingredients. The Korean title — roughly, War on Crime: The Golden Age of the Bad Guys — is much more specific than its vague and rather clumsy English title: writer-director YOON Jong-bin 윤종빈 | 尹鐘彬 is here attempting nothing less than an epic portrait of old-style gangsterdom during its last hurrah of the '80s. But there's a constant feeling of something missing in the final result: certainly a lack of epic scope or nostalgia, but also a shortage of real drama and an absence of anything fresh.
The film is good on specifics, with the era naturally caught through production design, costumes, make-up, hair and period music. And Yoon has a good feel for the streets and accents of his native Busan, even though it was an era he hardly knew himself, being born in 1979. But the clothesline on which he hangs all this detail is the familiar South Korean catalogue of male brawling, beatings, strutting and bullying, with no over-reaching dramatic arc to take it all to another level. The characters in Nameless Gangster don't evolve or learn; they simply keep doing the only things they know how to do.
That is partly the point of the movie, which can be seen as a wry portrait of a group of dinosaurs heading towards their own extinction. But a two-hour-plus drama of this kind needs something more to keep the audience engaged on an emotional level — and there's also no real sense of them heading towards extinction. Yoon, who made a small festival splash with his lowbudget character drama The Unforgiven 용서받지 못한 자 (2005) but then disappeared with his second feature, male-gigolo drama Beastie Boys 비스티 보이즈 (2007) (aka The Moonlight of Seoul), simply lacks the writing skills to pull off such a big production.
In the lack of any strong dramatic line, there's a grandstanding performance by veteran CHOI Min-shik 최민식 | 崔岷植 — almost on the histrionic level of his serial killer in I Saw the Devil 악마를 보았다 (2010) — that helps to carry the film. But it's actually younger actor HA Jung-woo 하정우 | 河正佑, from Yoon's previous two movies, plus The Chaser 추격자 (2008) and The Yellow Sea 황해 | 黃海 (2010), who's more the heart and soul of the movie. As the cool gangster who has his own codes of practice, Ha has excellent chemistry with Choi's bluff "businessman" and provides a degree of tension with his reined-in performance that Choi never generates with all his bluster. The large number of supporting roles are also deftly cast, including GWAK Do-won 곽도원 as the local public prosecutor trying to deal with clan ties and endemic institutional corruption, and JO Jin-ung 조진웅 | 趙震雄 as a mobster who feels his turf is threatened. Among an almost entirely male cast, TV drama actress KIM Hye-eun 김혜은 | 金惠恩 makes a brief impression as a sassy nightclub manager.