Photo courtesy of VIFF
DIR: Yoon Jongbin| Dragons and Tigers | South Korea | 2012 | 133 mins | Korean
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Choi Ikhyun (played by Oldboy’s Choi Minsik) has got to be the most unlikely gangster to ever exist, he can’t even beat up an old Hotel owner without falling over. In fact, he can’t seem to do anything right, at least not on purpose.
The opening scene is exactly what this movie is going to be like: violent, graphic and very funny. If you dislike watching people getting beat up with bats or sticks, do not watch this film. The director and writer Yoon Jongbin has a Tarantino-like touch in his third full-length film.
Vocabulary is important and here is why, at the beginning of the film we are introduced to the word “daebu”, which means “boss”, “godfather” or “grandfather” in Korean. If this all sounds familiar, you should also know that it appears this is not the first film about gangsters trying to get into the casino business, which leads me to believe that maybe Choi Ikhyun never saw The Godfather trilogy or Casino for that matter, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
After being fired from his mundane and underpaid job as a customs official, the unlikely gangster has a break of luck when a corrupt co-worker tells him about a stash of drugs they recently confiscated. He decides to set up a meeting with a known thug. The meeting goes terribly wrong after Choi starts insulting the thug. In an attempt to fix things he tells the gangster that they belong to the same family clan and therefore he should be respected as an elder.
At this point I’m not sure if Choi is a genius or just incredibly lucky, but the thug buys it and starts calling him “daebu”, and thus, his gangster life begins.
At first, Choi manages to stay afloat getting some good business deals with the help of his “grandson.” Yet, success is not eternal and after looking into the casino business (note to gangsters: casinos are always a cause for sorrow) and some betrayals (mostly caused by Choi’s desire and failure to be respected and feared), the political situation changes in South Korea, and with it starts the downfall of organized crime.
Yoon Jongbin’s film is both satirical and entertaining in a universal way, obviously taking some pointers from the so-called “Hollywood Renaissance” aka Scorsese and Coppola, as well as Tarantino. It comes as no surprise that Nameless Gangster was the year’s highest grossing film in South Korea.
The ending is possibly one of the best punch lines I have ever seen, reflecting the reality and hypocrisy of politicians and their relationship with organized crime, proving that the ones all the way at the top are usually the dirtiest of all.
Aurora Tejeida is from Mexico City and spends most of her time thinking about how hard it is to find decent tacos in Vancouver. The rest of her time is spent being a student at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism and consuming as many books and movies as she can get her hands on. Follow her on Twitter @AuroBots