Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time
범죄와의 전쟁 : 나쁜놈들 전성시대 (Beomjoewa-ui jeonjaeng: Nappeunnom-deul jeonseong-sidae)
South Korea, 2012, 133’, Korean
Directed by: Yoon Jong-bin
Script: Yoon Jong-bin
Photography (color): Goh Nak-seon
Editing: Kim Jae-beom, Kim Sang-beom
Art Direction: Jo Hwa-seong
Music: Jo Young-wook
Producers: Han Jae-deok, Park Eun-kyung, Park Shin-kyu, Yu Jeong-hoon
Cast: Choi Min-sik (Choi Ik-hyun), Ha Jung-woo (Choi Hyung-bae), Cho Jin-woong (Kim Pan-ho), Ma Dong-seok (Mr. Kim), Kwak Do-won (Public prosecutor Jo Beom-seok), Kim Seong-gyun (Park Chang-woo)
Date of First Release in Territory: February 2nd, 2012
There are some films that are constructed around a single iconic character. And for all its dramatic storyline, expansive cast of interesting characters, and memorable setting, Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time ultimately boils down to Choi Ik-hyun. He’s a middle-aged man from Busan, with no special talents or abilities other than a certain shamelessness and a willingness to use personal connections to get ahead in life. He’s the type of personality that is usually a supporting character in other films. But there’s a reason he plays such a central part in this story: this is a film that illustrates how power is exercised in Korean society. And few things matter more in Korean society than personal connections.
The talented veteran actor Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) makes little effort to portray Choi Ik-hyun as a likable person. At the start of the story he is a customs officer who demands bribes whenever he can, and keeps piles of cash hidden away from view. But one day he comes across a large stash of methamphetamine. Determined to get as much benefit from this windfall as possible, he arranges to meet the local gangster Choi Hyung-bae (Ha Jung-woo) to ask him to broker a deal with the Japanese yakuza. But the real windfall comes when he discovers that he and Hyung-bae are part of the same Gyeongju-based Choi family clan. Quitting his job, he re-establishes himself as a businessman and uses this family connection to impose himself on the gang and enrich himself.
Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time was a breakthrough for Yoon Jong-bin. It was the highest grossing film of early 2012, and received a rapturous response from local critics. Many viewers praised the work for exposing something truthful, albeit slightly shameful, about the way things work in Korean society. Although set in the 1980s and 1990s (the effective use of period details and costumes are quite memorable) the social dynamic it portrays feels in many ways just as relevant to the present day.
But it would be wrong of me to focus only on one character, and to speak only of the performance of Choi Min-sik. The ensemble cast in this film is extraordinary, and it features many actors who have since gone on to become much more famous than they were in 2012, including Ma Dong-seok (Train to Busan), Cho Jin-woong (The Handmaiden), Kwak Do-won (The Wailing), Kim Seong-gyun (Fengshui), and many other recognizable faces. And of course I must also mention Yoon Jong-bin’s regular collaborator Ha Jung-woo, whose portrayal of Hyung-bae the gangster is disarmingly human, without ever downplaying his potential for violence. Fans of the gangster movie genre who like complex, contradictory characters should give this film a chance.
Yoon Jong-bin studied at Chung-Ang University, where he directed the low-budget The Unforgiven. Yoon’s first commercial feature Beastie Boys centered on male hosts in Seoul’s nightlife districts. In 2012, the Busan-set drama Nameless Gangster was a commercial breakthrough. He followed that up with Kundo: Age of the Rampant, a tale of bandits set in the Joseon Dynasty, and The Spy Gone North, which screened in Cannes’ Midnight Section and amassed 5 million admissions. Apart from directing, he has also produced the box office hits A Violent Prosecutor (2016), Money (2019) and The Closet (2020).
2005 – The Unforgiven
2008 – Beastie Boys
2012 – Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time
2014 – Kundo: Age of the Rampant
2018 – The Spy Gone North