Another movie that portrays the government as corrupt, this time with subtitles! [VIFF 2012]

Nameless Gangster Poster

TitleNameless Gangster: Rules of the Time
Genre(s)Crime, Thriller, Drama, Comedy
Director(s)Yun Jong-bin
Release Year2012
IMDB7.4/10
Rotten TomatoesN/A

Soon following my screening of Teddy Bear, I got situated back into the theater for another film, this time from South Korea. The film is called Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time, and runs at a very slowly paced 2 hours and 14 minutes. The reason this film is garnering the attention it is, is because of its star Choi Min-sik, who you may know as the star of Oldboy which was directed by Park Chan-wook. Touted by Time magazine as “The Korean mob film Scorsese would be proud of“, Nameless Gangster has an unnatural hype around it. Unfortunately, what the film seems to really be is a collection of well-acted sequences, forcefully trying to show Choi Ik-hyun (Min-sik) as a character who doesn’t need violence to be a gangster and even being more of a gangster than those who are violent.

The problem with this concept is that it never really amounts to much. The story is about Ik-hyun’s rise to the top of the organized crime ladder in Busan with the help of Choi Hyung-bae (Ha Jung-woo), a relative who he stumbles across while on the brink of losing his job. Hyung-bae is actually a gangster himself and the two team up to become the two most notorious gangsters in Busan. The reason I discussed the Time magazine article, and the hype surrounding this picture, is because it doesn’t paint the picture of what the film really is. It’s humorous more often than it’s ruthless, and boring more often than it’s engaging. Perhaps that’s what the film is going for, with its monotonous nature, showcasing the two polarizing worlds of bribery and corruption, and then the world of violence. Unfortunately it doesn’t work well when it keeps repeating sequences that provide the same effect as the one before it.

I’m understating how badass the character of Choi Hyung-bae (center) is. When he was on screen, I cared about this film.

There are moments in this film that are great, and carry a dark undercurrent with them, and then those scenes remain the highlights as we witness the same bumbling fool attempt to live the gangster lifestyle, without having the capacity to fully become one. This provides a jarring effect when we go from a ruthlessly violent sequence (most of which aren’t that ruthless, but the lighting and camerawork convey the dark tone) to one of ridiculousness. The film ultimately shows the importance of connections and family, and that you cannot rely on brute strength alone to rise in the criminal underworld. But if you look at the film on a literal level, it ends up showcasing that the government is corrupt and that anyone can be changed for the worse, so long as the payoff is high enough for them.

But let’s not leave those metaphors alone right now, because there’s so many in this movie. Ik-hyun never loads his gun with bullets, but always carries it around once he gets it. Obviously this is implying that he doesn’t need violence to be a gangster, which is a metaphor pretty much given to the audience. Dig a little deeper though and there’s a more subtle metaphor in the use of bats. The bats are used by both gangsters and police symbolizing the fact that the two really aren’t any different. A small touch, but it actually confused me more than anything because police probably should be using guns rather than openly beating people with bats, no matter what impact the metaphor may have on the film.

And meet Prosecutor Jo (Kwak Do-won), portrayed to the audience as the most ruthless prosecutor. But he’s so adorable!

 

Perhaps that’s why this film didn’t do it for me though. Instead of making a completely interesting film, it went out of its way to continue driving home the same point over and over. I didn’t get attached to any characters, but was instead strung along by the dark sequences and brief moments of humor. The problem is that none of the moments are relatively memorable in the long run, since the iconic moments from the movie are more often than not blatant homages to more iconic American gangster films. Would Scorsese really be proud of this movie? Perhaps insomuch as any other film that pays homage to his works, maybe a little more so because it tries something a little different (showing the differences and comparisons between the two different types of gangster). If this film was shortened by cutting out some of Ik-hyun’s more ridiculous scenes, there would have been more to enjoy here. Instead, the film goes on to display Min-sik’s acting range, in a movie that feels like two different films amalgamated into one narrative. This leaves Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time showing all it has to show in the first 45-60 minutes of the film, forcing the viewer to beg for the film to reach its climax and tie everything up as soon as possible.

Overall: Not Recommended

Screening courtesy of the 2012 Vancouver International Film Festival

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