September 10, 2017

Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time: Buoyant Slime

Choi Min-sik's career encompasses a rogues' gallery worth of tough guys: the serial killer in I Saw the Devil, the title character in The Admiral, the washed-up pugilist in Crying Fist, and — perhaps most hauntingly — the vigilante/victim in Park Chan-wook's messed-up masterpiece Oldboy. Yet as tough as all these guys were, Choi's character in Nameless Gangster could probably beat them all. It's not that he's physically stronger, more intellectually limber, or naturally bloodthirstier. It's simply that he's a shameless slime-ball who backstabs like nobody's business, an evil Everyman with a chip on his shoulder. Never has an ingratiating laugh felt more like a secret weapon.

Indeed there's something so believably sleazy about Choi Ik-hyun, the wheeling and dealing gangster played by the actor, that your disgust rises and rises each time he gets out of another jam by screwing somebody else over. His one-upmanship of a younger, more seasoned gangster (Ha Jung-woo) is ingenious; his self-serving coercion of his brother-in-law (Ma Dong-seok) into a life of crime is heartless; his outmaneuvering of an ambitious prosecutor (Kwak Do-won) is infuriating. When you're loyal to none, evidently, there's no place to go but up! As the old adage goes: "Poop floats."

Writer-director Yun Jong-bin has presented us with an uncomfortably cynical point of view of every level of society: the judicial system, the police department, organized crime, the workplace, your family, your hometown, you name it. And yet, despite Choi's continual deceits, at no point do you feel, "Oh this could never happen" or "someone would have caught on by now." We've all lived with and/or worked with reprehensible success stories like Choi's double-dealer. He's our relative, our boss, our elected official, our next door neighbor, our social studies teacher. Humanity is horrible.

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