The Royal Tailor (상의원) – ★★★☆☆

The Royal Tailor (상의원)

The Royal Tailor (상의원)

Three years have passed since the death of the king, and with the mourning period now officially over the new monarch (Yoo Yeon-seok (유연석) commissions a special new dragon robe from royal tailor Jo Dol-seok (Han Seok-Kyu (한석규). Having crafted royal attire for 30 years, commoner Dol-seok is on the verge of becoming a nobleman, the reward for a lifetime of service. Yet the abrupt arrival of new and highly sought after tailor Gong-jin (Ko Soo (고수), with his fancy contemporary designs and custom-made fittings, place Dol-seok’s position in jeopardy. Animosity between the two arises when the queen (Park Shin-hye (박신혜) announces her need for a tailor and Gong-jin is presented with the task, however the young upstarts disregard for the Confucian rules of the time may well spell trouble.

Dol-seok has crafted royal attire for 30 years and is finally on the verge of nobility

Dol-seok has crafted royal attire for 30 years and is finally on the verge of nobility

The Royal Tailor is a vibrant and unique addition to the Korean period drama canon, one that is consistently visually stimulating and bustling with ideas yet one which is also often directionless.

Director Lee Won-seok (이원석) and cinematographer Kim Ji-young deserve praise for crafting such a distinctive and striking film. The beautiful assortments of colour that permeate scenes featuring tailory are truly gorgeous, often combining with a keen sense of symmetry that makes The Royal Tailor a real treat for the eyes. The variation of such impressive colours and designs applied to hanbok also make the drama a fitting tribute to the traditional attire, revering it both as iconic as well as a symbol of cultural elegance.

One of the great strengths of The Royal Tailor, and one that makes it so entertaining, is the progressive attitude laced throughout the narrative which is often expressed through hanbok itself. Through the distinctly Korean conflict between traditionalist Dol-seok and the actions of rebellious contemporary Gong-jin, the period tale seeks to poke fun at the Confucian ideals of the era, employing fashion and feminist issues to push the boundaries of oppression. Rather controversially for a film set in such an era, director Lee provocatively conveys that strict adherence to tradition halts development even at the most basic level – a scene in which actor Ma Dong-seok parades like a peacock in his latest hanbok while his sleeves are too long to pour and consume beverages is frankly hilarious – and conveys the playfully nature in which he mocks and scrutinises the rigidity of the time.

Through colourful stylish hanbok, rebellious tailor Gong-jin pushes Confucian boundaries

Through colourful stylish hanbok, rebellious tailor Gong-jin pushes Confucian boundaries

Director Lee infuses The Royal Tailor with an energetic flamboyance reminiscent of his excellent prior rom-com How To Use Guys With Secret Tips, yet perhaps due to Secret Tips‘ modest returns and/or the conventions of the period film, he appears to lack the confidence to fully commit to his whimsically comedic vision here. Instead he injects his unique flair through a handful of select scenes which are hit-and-miss, as the film flits between typical genre fare and more surrealist postmodern sensibilities, resulting in a film which has something of an identity crisis. This is a quite unfortunate as director Lee is one of the more unique talents to emerge from the industry in recent years, and seeing his aesthetics restrained is a real shame.

The drama also suffers in a narrative sense due to the lack of characterisation and the absence of a strong trajectory. The protagonists, and the story, tends to meander and while the situations and debates that arise are entertaining, the film feels directionless and in need of a more defined central plot. As such the actors are under-utilised, particularly Park Shin-hye who suffers the most in this regard as there is little for her to do other than appear sad and pretty.

Yet The Royal Tailor ends with a surprisingly potent finale, one which directly challenges the very concept of history and leaves a particularly lasting impression. In forcing audiences to question the very foundations of their national and cultural identity, director Lee makes a bold statement that the past and the truth are not always the same.

In the conflict between traditional and progressive, how is history created?

In the conflict between traditional and progressive, how is history created?

Verdict:

The Royal Tailor is a unique and vibrant period drama by director Lee Won-Seok who comedically uses the fashion of the era to mock and push the oppressive boundaries of Confucian norms. While the use of colour is a visual treat and the film is infused with a handful of wonderfully whimsical scenes, The Royal Tailor is often directionless due to issues with the narrative and characterisation. Yet the drama ends on a high note that examines the concept of history and as such The Royal Tailor leaves a lasting impression.

★★★☆☆

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KUNDO: Age of the Rampant (군도:민란의 시대) – ★★★☆☆

KUNDO: Age of the Rampant (군도:민란의 시대)

KUNDO: Age of the Rampant (군도:민란의 시대)

Upon release, summer blockbuster KUNDO: Age of the Rampant (군도:민란의 시대) broke the record for opening day admissions and helped to breath new life into what was a flagging year for Korean cinema…until it was soundly beaten a week later by maritime epic The Admiral: Roaring Currents.

It’s particularly ironic that both tentpole films achieved such a feat, given that they contain such strikingly oppositional philosophies and content. While The Admiral focused on generating hyper-nationalism to achieve success, KUNDO opted for an anti-establishment sensibility, as a group of Robin Hood-esque outlaws band together to fight against the tyrannical Prince.

Curiously, while the ideological leanings of each film differ, both suffer from a similar set of issues. KUNDO, while boasting impressive production values, competent directing and an array of popular stars, ultimately feels rushed and unfinished due to the poorly structured and conceived narrative.

A band of outlaws band together to fight against the vicious prince Jo

A band of outlaws band together to fight against the vicious prince Jo

Centuries ago, Korea was a land in turmoil. With starvation and death commonplace, corruption in society was rampant, particularly amongst the ruling classes. In the face of so much injustice a group of working class heroes band together to rob from the rich and give to the poor, attempting to appease the suffering of the people.  Yet in a nearby city, a greater villainy is brewing. Born to a nobleman and courtesan, Prince Jo (Kang Dong-won (강동원) seeks to usurp his father and reign over the land. Only one challenge to his rule remains – his sister-in-law and her son, the rightful heir. Butcher Dochi (Ha Jeong-woo (하정우) is hired to kill the pair, yet when he cannot, he is viciously betrayed and punished. Furious, Dochi finds a place with the band of thieves and begin their revenge as they plan to halt the Prince’s machinations.

From the moment KUNDO opens, it’s clear that the production values are some of the highest in recent memory and are particularly outstanding. Director Yoon Jong-bin (윤종빈) and his team have noticeably worked hard to put striking visual detail in every shot, from the incredible costumes of the cast through to the great variety of landscapes and arenas in which the action takes place. The attention to detail generates a sense of sincerity and wonder, and is in itself an phenomenal achievement. In regards to each member of the cast, their histories and occupations are wonderfully captured in their costumes whether it be a Buddhist monk, a butcher, or a wealthy prince and significantly contributes to the power of the film, an acute attention to detail that earned designer Jo Sang-gyeong the award for Best Costume Design at the 51st Daejong Film Awards.

The prodction values in KUNDO are outstanding

The prodction values in KUNDO are outstanding

Yet where KUNDO falters is in the narrative structure, which is consistently haphazard. The story jumps between time lines and characters to confusing effect, and to compensate a random and quite sporadic voice-over attempts to help allay by filling in back stories and histories yet serves to provide only a further sense of disorganization. The poor structure is impossible to miss and insinuates even to the casual cinema-goer that several more drafts of the screenplay were needed before cameras started rolling.

Screenwriter Jeon Cheol-bin is further hampered by an overly – and insanely – large cast which is a huge challenge for any scribe to make each character relevant. While Jeon has clearly worked hard to do so, the sheer amount of protagonists weighs down the film due to the attempt at giving everyone screen time, resulting in a story that lacks conviction or indeed compulsion, and one that is particularly hard to invest in.

Such issues also afflict the actors. As KUNDO focuses primarily on Prince Jo-yoon and butcher Dochi, Kang Dong-won and Ha Jeong-woo have the greater chances to shine. Ha Jeong-woo in particular seems to be having a great time as the butcher-turned-criminal with his cocky and self-assured performance certainly the most enjoyable aspect of the film. Kang Dong-won – in his first film role since completing mandatory military service – also appears to relish portraying the villainous prince. Yet for them and the rest of the enormous supporting cast, the lack of screen time results in highly capable actors providing competent performances, making KUNDO an entertaining but not especially compelling viewing experience.

The villainous prince battles against the uprising

The villainous prince battles against the uprising

Verdict:

KUNDO: Age of the Rampant is a record-breaking tentpole film of 2014 by director Yoon Jong-bin. Boasting hugely impressive production and costume design as well as a host of capable actors including Ha Jeong-woo and Kang Dong-won, KUNDO is ultimately let down by a haphazard narrative structure, an insane amount of supporting characters, and a story that is hard to invest in. As a result KUNDO is an enjoyable, though unchallenging, viewing experience.

★★★☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (제19회 부산국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews

One on One (일대일) – ★★★☆☆

One on One (일대일)

One on One (일대일)

While walking home one night from school, a young girl is chased through the streets by a team of men and is brutally murdered. One year later, a mysterious team known as ‘the shadows’ arises. Led by a powerful leader (Ma Dong-seok (마동석) and his deputy (Ahn Ji-hye (안지혜), the shadows begin abducting seemingly random and successful men, demanding a written confession. If the abductees are unwilling, then various forms of torture soon remedy the situation. Yet when Oh Hyeon (Kim Yeong-min (김영민), the first victim to receive punishment from the shadows, begins trailing them, he is alarmed by what he uncovers.

The murder of a school girl begins a chain of torturous events

The murder of a school girl begins a chain of torturous events

One on One (일대일) is quite a refreshing change of pace for director Kim Ki-duk. His past few films, such as Moebius and Pieta, have arguably tended to focus more on excess and shock value rather than storytelling which, as a marketing tactic, has done wonders for his career and international exposure – awards. With One on One director Kim has returned to more traditional filmmaking fare by incorporating a linear narrative framework, while the story itself deals with individuals in the back alleys of Seoul who have fallen through the cracks of contemporary Korean society. Coupled with camera techniques reminiscent of his early works, director Kim has seemingly returned to his roots through this ‘raw’ tale of the circular nature of revenge.

Director Kim has always been a particularly divisive director, yet within his films his consistent desire to explore the social problems in Korea are always present and interesting. For many audiences it’s the manner in which he conveys such issues that raises alarm, however One on One is a much more toned-down affair than his previous efforts, less violent (both psychically and sexually) as well as less gratuitous, although it still contains his indelible stamp. Instead, director Kim allows his characters to express his societal concerns through the dialogue, quite a change of pace considering his tendency to focus his critiques through physicality.

The shadow group abduct and torture men for their criminal past

The shadow group abduct and torture men for their criminal past

Within One on One, the primary issue explored is one particularly unique to Korea – that in order to be successful, a junior must do whatever a senior demands, regardless of the ethics involved. Director Kim examines the socio-cultural phenomenon in an interesting, and ironic, fashion, as ‘the shadows’ simultaneously attempt to take revenge against those who were carrying out orders, yet following those of their leader in order to do so. The narrative impressively links all the characters together through their sense of ‘Han’ (suffering), depicting them all as victims of a cultural system that demands success at any cost, regardless of their wealth and social status. For the shadows, each member has been wronged in a manner that has forced them into poverty, whether by greedy landowners, oppressive spouses, or even the Korean education system. In regards to those comprising the social elite, their very souls have been tainted by what they have undertaken, turning them into fascistic monsters.

However while the film explores some very complex social features – issues that have risen to prominence following the Sewol ferry disaster – the narrative is incredibly overambitious. In scrutinizing such a vast array of issues the result is a rather superficial examination of each area, whereby the suffering of each shadow member is only glimpsed. As such it’s difficult to become wholeheartedly invested in their plight as well as the moral quandary arising from taking revenge. Also contributing significantly to the lack of empathy is the poor dialogue, which at times is quite naïve and simplistic, especially during the scenes spoken in English. Similarly, while Ma Dong-seok provides a powerful performance, and to a lesser extent (boy and girl), the supporting cast range from mediocre to poor which adds to the apathy.

The confessions procured reveal the nature of obeying orders at any cost

The confessions procured reveal the nature of obeying orders at any cost

Verdict:

One on One is something of a refreshing film by director Kim Ki-duk. In focusing on social issues through a traditional narrative framework, and in conjunction with rather ‘raw’ camera techniques, director Kim has crafted an interesting examination that removes the excess of his prior films. However as One on One is overly ambitious as well as containing poor dialogue, the film is difficult to fully invest in, and as such is an intriguing yet flawed addition to his filmography.

★★★☆☆

Busan International Film Festival (제19회 부산국제영화제) Festival News Korean Festivals 2014 Reviews
Vulnerability, as well as strength, are portaryed through the ajumma

Azooma (공정사회) – ★★★☆☆

Azooma (공정사회)

Azooma (공정사회)

The revenge thriller is often synonymous with Korean cinema, thanks largely to the successes of director Park Chan-wook and his contemporaries. Yet with the exception of Lady Vengeance, this realm of darkness and violence is very much dominated by men. Despite their stake in the evils perpetuated on the characters, women are marginalized into supporting roles while righteous torture and murder are masculine concerns.

Azooma (공정사회) changes that by having the central female protagonist directly involved in the action, in conjunction with tapping into socio-cultural concerns of child rape and a corrupt and overly-lenient legal system. Due to such content it’s perhaps unsurprising that Azooma – a variation on the spelling of ‘ajumma’, meaning middle-aged woman – is an independent production, giving director Lee Ji-seung (이지승) the freedom to pursue such cathartic female-lead violence. However this freedom is also the films undoing particularly in regard to the editing, which detracts from an otherwise thrilling revenge tale.

A single mother (Jang Young-nam (장영남) is late picking up her daughter Yeon-joo (Lee Jae-hee (이재희) from school, and as the 10 year old walks home alone she is abducted and raped by a man (Hwang Tae-gwang (황태광). Luckily finding Yeon-joo after the incident, the ajumma immediately takes her daughter to hospital for surgery and contacts her estranged husband (Bae Seong-woo, 배성우) for help. Yet he is more concerned with his own reputation, while the detective in charge of the case (Ma Dong-seok (마동석) seemingly couldn’t care less about apprehending the criminal. Devastated by the impotency of law enforcement, the ajumma decides to take the law into her own hands and find the paedophile herself.

Yeon-joo is abducted by a stranger after school

Yeon-joo is abducted by a stranger after school

The original Korean title ‘공정사회’ means ‘fair society’, and the irony is certainly not lost in translation. One of the great strengths of Azooma is the manner in which patriarchy as a whole is conveyed as responsible for what happens to Yeon-joo. Director Lee portrays an array of misogynistic issues that combine to place both mother and daughter as victims within contemporary society, and not just from a crime. Indeed, the reason the ajumma is late to meet Yeon-joo after school is due to a business meeting with a creepy older man, featuring some potent close-ups of her pulling down her skirt and covering herself to avert his gaze. Yet by far the most villainous character in the film is Yeon-joo’s father, who encapsulates the hypocrisy and selfishness of contemporary masculinity acutely well. He is of the ideology that sex is something ‘shameful’ for a female, and his fury that Yeon-joo is taken to a hospital where he knows people is as shockingly offensive as it is sickeningly real. Merely concerned for his own reputation rather than his daughter’s well being, the father brilliantly articulates the survival of traditional misogyny in modern society and serves to build frustration and pressure – for both the ajumma and the audience – incredibly well.

While it may come as a shock to some, Azooma is actually based on a true story. Director Lee does a great job in targeting the overly lenient law system for sex offenders as lacking any credibility, and ultimately forcing the ajumma to locate the criminal alone. Building on issues raised by prior films such as Silenced (also based on a true story) and Poetry, Azooma deftly conveys that even if Detective Ma were concerned with apprehending the paedophile, the criminal would most probably receive a light sentence – perhaps even as little as six months. The scenes in which the paedophile covers any trace of his DNA are simultaneously frightening and repulsive, as it is quite clear that this is not the first time he has committed such an act, and with the indifferent attitude of the police force it will not be the last. The unbelievable obstructions of justice caused by men prompt the ajumma to search for the criminal herself using clues provided by her daughter, and amazingly she finds him. It is here however that the true story ends as the ajumma confronts her daughter’s attacker, leading to suspense-filled sequences.

Due to ineffective police work, the ajumma tracks the criminal herself

Due to ineffective police work, the ajumma tracks the criminal herself

While director Lee builds tension well and continually provides acute criticism of contemporary Korean masculinity and their institutions, he is also given too much free reign in the post-production department. The editing within Azooma is the downfall of the film, as there is simply far too much non-linear editing over the course of the film. There are so many jumps to different times and events that often the suspense and desire for revenge, which took time and effort to generate, dissipates. This is a genuine shame as had the editing been a little more linear, the film would be arguably much more poignant and powerful.

Despite such criticisms the film manages to right itself in a quite thrilling final act in which the ajumma, completely dejected by the maltreatment she and Yeon-joo have suffered, seeks retribution. Simultaneously difficult yet enthralling to watch, the scenes of torture last long in the memory as the ajumma dishes out her own unique brand of justice. It is a testament to the issues within the film that such violence is not only desirable, but actually feels too short; even with the torture, it still seems as if the criminal didn’t suffer enough. It is wonderfully impressive to finally see a Korean woman at the helm of such violence. Even in Lady Vengeance, Geum-ja exists to provide vengeance for other grieving parents. With Azooma, the audience can witness a woman directly affected by a crime take control of the situation and emerge reborn. While all the loose ends are tied up a little too neatly, the violence is highly cathartic while the narrative itself contains numerous areas of debate, and as such Azooma is an impressive revenge thriller.

Disillusioned with patriarchal institutions, the ajumma prepares for her own brand of justice

Disillusioned with patriarchal institutions, the ajumma prepares for her own brand of justice

Verdict:

Azooma is a potent revenge thriller concerned with a mother who seeks retribution after her daughter is raped. Director Lee Ji-seung wonderfully conveys the temperament of the ajumma as she is pushed to breaking point by patriarchal society, and it is enthralling to see a Korean woman at the helm of such violence as it is such a rarity. While the non-linear editing is overly used to the point of dissipating the tension, the narrative is consistently compelling as misogyny is explored, corruption and leniency in law enforcement is exposed, and a female protagonist enacts arguably justifiable vigilante torture.

★★★☆☆

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Ik-hyeon settles into his 'gangster' role with ease

Nameless Gangster (범죄와의 전쟁: 나쁜놈들 전성시대) – ★★★☆☆

Nameless Gangster (범죄와의 전쟁: 나쁜놈들 전성시대)

Nameless Gangster (범죄와의 전쟁: 나쁜놈들 전성시대)

Gangster ‘epics’ are not films that merely present bad men doing bad things; on the contrary, the ‘epicness’ of the films are due to the ways in which producers tell the story within the wider context of the socio-cultural period, conveying a national uniqueness alongside the themes of brotherhood, betrayal, and the escalation of violence. While there are numerous contemporary directors such as Guy Ritchie, Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Mann that fit this paradigm, the most notable figure in this regard is the legendary Martin Scorsese who besets his conflicted protagonists with problems from all sides, masterfully building tension to a poignant crescendo.

With Nameless Gangster (범죄와의 전쟁: 나쁜놈들 전성시대) writer/director Yoon Jong-bin (윤종빈) seemingly attempts to emulate Scorsese, featuring a similar rags-to-riches and fall-from-grace narrative structure. Yet there the comparisons end as while the story is distinctly Korean and multi-layered, and the directing competent, the lack of flair, tension and an over-abundance of secondary characters halt Nameless Gangster from achieving excellence. However, alongside the sumptuous costume and set design the film sports a fascinating perspective on the evolution of crime in Korea, and the struggle to combat corruption in contemporary society.

In the month of October, 1990, President Roh Tae-woo launches a crackdown on corruption and crime in South Korea, giving the police and prosecutors special powers to arrest those involved in the criminal underworld. For the port city of Busan this presents an acute problem, and as gangsters are forced to lie low the incarceration of infamous Choi Ik-hyeon (Choi Min-sik (최민식) is an enormous victory for prosecutor Jo Beom-seok (Kwak Byeong-gyoo (곽병규). Yet the criminal simply refuses to admit any wrongdoing despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In order to fully uncover the truth, the journey must begin back in 1982 when Ik-hyeon was a mere corrupt customs official, exploring the relationships that were forged – particularly with notorious criminal Choi Hyeong-bae (Ha Jeong-woo (하정우) – during the golden age of the gangster lifestyle in Korea.

Ik-hyeon settles into his 'gangster' role with ease

Ik-hyeon settles into his ‘gangster’ role with ease

Nameless Gangster is surprisingly less a film about gangsters and more a film about the evolution of corruption in Korean society, personified through smarmy central protagonist Ik-hyeon. Originating as a corrupt customs official, Ik-hyeon – and the entire customs department – are directly in the firing line of the government crackdown on crime, the penalty for which is placed squarely on Ik-hyeon’s shoulders. Yet despite being a dishonest and unscrupulous reprobate, Ik-hyeon is quite a charismatic and lovable rogue due to the performance of acting legend Choi Min-sik. Bizarrely Choi Min-sik exaggerates and overacts the character throughout the film but incredibly manages to convey this as part of Ik-hyeon’s personality, an appealingly silly man who constantly oversteps his boundaries to the chagrin of all involved. The subtly seductive performance blurs the lines between the gangster and comedy genres as Ik-hyeon simultaneously charms and smites those around him, juxtaposing laugh-out-loud moments with brutality, reminiscent of scenes within Scorsese’s Goodfellas from which the film borrows heavily. However these moments never quite achieve the shocking impact they should. Writer/director Yoon Jong-bin (윤종빈) writes the scenes incredibly well and has highly competent vision, yet somehow fails to capture the tension that such scenes demand, with the slow build of suspense and apprehension curiously absent. Violence, too, is also problematic within Nameless Gangster through the lack of escalation. While it would be absurd to expect Americanized gun crime within such a distinctly Korean gangster film the repetitive nature of the clashes, commonly involving baseball bats and glass bottles, quickly becomes bland and lessens the severity such confrontations should convey.

Violence enters the narrative through the introduction of Choi Hyeong-bae, a lifelong gangster with whom Ik-hyeon shares common ancestry. It is through their relationship that Nameless Gangster truly shines, as the bumbling Ik-hyeon forges ties with an incredible variety of powerful strangers due to mutual heritage – and seniority – in order to create a criminal empire, constructing a fascinating insight into the multifaceted nature of corruption in Korea. Director Yoon Jong-bin’s narrative strength lies in the comically awe-inspiring Ik-hyeon as he weasels his way into the good graces of politicians, law-makers and international crime syndicates, resulting in a meteoric rise from crooked customs official to one of the most dangerous gangsters in Busan. While Ik-hyeon provides the connections it is Hyeong-bae, wonderfully performed by Ha Jeong-woo, who commands the muscle. Hyeong-bae is stoic, authoritative and deadly, conveying restrained violence and potential danger with every movement and gesture, the true gangster of the partnership. The stark contrast between the two, as well as Ik-hyeon’s unerring manner for overstepping boundaries, provides the catalyst for the introduction of a third party in the form of rival gangster Kim Pan-ho (Jo Jin-woong (조진웅). In another nod to past gangster epics in the form of Scorsese-esque triumvirates, Pan-ho ultimately fails to be a convincing protagonist due to serious underdevelopment, undermining him as a credible threat both within the narrative and to consummate gangster Hyeong-bae.

Hyeong-bae is the consummate gangster - stoic, powerful, and deadly

Hyeong-bae is the consummate gangster – stoic, powerful, and deadly

With a strong narrative and competent direction, Nameless Gangster also benefits from having sumptuous costume and set design. The world of 1980s Busan is eloquently portrayed and wonderfully realized, absorbing the audience within the chic decor and lifestyle from humble homesteads to bars to casinos.

In terms of performance both Choi Min-sik and Ha Jeong-woo play off each other well, with the latter giving the stand-out portrayal as hard-boiled gangster Hyeong-bae. The stoicism of the character coupled with the restrained threat of violence is an absolute joy and contributes greatly in conveying tension, which is sadly underutilized within the narrative and direction. Choi Min-sik, on the other hand, is highly charismatic as Ik-hyeon despite being a tad overzealous throughout. The actor conveys the foolish nature of the man incredibly well, yet the scenes in which Ik-hyeon demands power and authority unbecoming to him that are the most revealing, conveying a man desperate for control in a universe which resolutely refuses him.

The rest of the cast are used in supportive roles and are either generally underdeveloped, such as gangster Pan-ho and prosecutor Jo Beom-seok, or simply redundant, such as club Manager Yeo (Kim Hye-eun (김혜은) or brother-in-law Seo-bang Kim  (Ma Dong-seok (마동석). This is unfortunate, as had the roles been greater (or jettisoned) the web of threat and deception would undoubtedly be much stronger as in Ryoo Seung-wan‘s The Unjust; as it stands, they are rather limp additions in an otherwise well-written screenplay about societal corruption.

Through creating links and contacts, Ik-hyeon helps expand the criminal empire

Through creating links and contacts, Ik-hyeon helps expand the criminal empire

Verdict:

Nameless Gangster is a compelling and fascinating film about the nature, and evolution, of crime and corruption in Korea. With an absorbing narrative, wonderful set and costume design, and entertaining performances, the film is generally let down by the lack of tension and suspense, as well as underdeveloped characters. That said, Nameless Gangster is an enjoyable yarn of power and social relationships in a country still struggling to shake off the ramifications of the war on crime.

★★★☆☆

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