South Korea, 13 October 1990. Following President Roh Tae-woo's declaration of a crackdown on organized crime, Busan businessman Choi Ik-hyun (Choi Min-sik) is arrested for embezzling billions of won from hotel construction companies, and is also charged with intimidation, kidnapping and assault. Busan public prosecutor Jo Beom-seok (Kwak Do-won) is in charge of the investigation, and especially the murder of hotel owner Heo Sam-shik (Kwon Tae-won) by mobster Kim Pan-ho (Cho Jin-woong), with whom Ik-hyun allegedly was connected.
Back in March 1982, Choi was a Busan customs officer who, along with colleagues, was already taking bribes and pilfering goods. After discovering 10 kilograms of hiropon (crystal meth) in a warehouse one night, he and colleague Mr. Jang (Kim Jong-soo) approach a friend of Jang's, gangster Choi Hyung-bae (Ha Jung-woo), to sell it to Japan's yakuza, with whom Hyung-bae has ties. Ik-hyun discovers that the younger Hyung-bae is also a member of the same Choi family clan from Gyeongju and the two form a close relationship. Ik-hyun leaves his customs job and becomes a full-time businessman, with Hyung-bae taking care of the underworld side and Ik-hyun protecting him with his high-level contacts.
In the mid-'80s the two forcibly take over a nightclub run by Miss Yeo (Kim Hye-eun) that is on the turf of Pan-ho. Following his humiliation, Pan-ho has the club raided by the police and Hyung-bae arrested, though Ik-hyun gets Hyung-bae released by using the Choi clan connection with Seoul public prosecutor Choi Joo-dong (Kim Eung-soo). In May 1987, Ik-hyun and Hyung-bae take their business to the next level, formally linking up with Japan's Yakuza and having a connection with a hotel-casino, the Daedong, that is also on Pan-ho's turf. Pan-ho threatens a gang war with Hyung-bae, and Ik-hyun is forced to decide where his loyalties and self-survival lie.
Out of desperation, Ik-hyun meets up with Pan-ho without Hyung-bae's knowledge to solve the issues between the two gangs. A paranoid Hyung-bae, who has become increasingly annoyed by Ik-hyun trying to overpower him, has Ik-Hyun beaten up and kicked out of the gang with a stern warning. When Ik-hyun is arrested by the prosecutor, he finally reveals all his connections to the underworld in order to save himself. However, he seemingly only reveals the whereabouts of Pan-ho, who has been hiding away from the authorities. In order to survive, Hyung-bae reconciles with Ik-hyun and they plan to escape together after Ik-hyun has his family sent away to America. However, as they are escaping Busan, the authorities catch up to them. It turns out that Ik-hyun had revealed Hyunb-bae's whereabouts as well and has been playing him all along. Hyung-bae tries to kill Ik-hyun out of frustration but he is arrested and taken away. The prosecutor is given an award by the president for bringing down organized crime in Busan.
Twenty years later, Ik-hyun's son is now a law graduate from Seoul University and has joined the prosecutor's office. Despite having escaped the law and living a life of luxury, Ik-hyun is still suffering from guilt over how he betrayed Hyung-bae. While he is celebrating his first grandson's birthday with the rest of the family, Hyung-bae's voice is heard and the screen turns to black.Choi Min-sik as Choi Ik-hyunHa Jung-woo as Choi Hyung-bae, a gang bossCho Jin-woong as Kim Pan-ho, a gang bossKwak Do-won as Jo Beom-seok, a public prosecutorMa Dong-seok as Mr. Kim, brother-in-law of Ik-hyunKim Sung-kyun as Park Chang-woo, Hyung-bae's gang underbossKim Jong-goo as Jo Bong-goo, a customs chief officerKim Jong-soo as Mr. Jang, a customs officerKwon Tae-won as Heo Sam-shik, co-owner of the nightclubKim Hye-eun as Miss Yeo, co-owner of the nightclubKim Eung-soo as Choi Joo-dong, a public prosecutorSong Young-chang as Mr. Han, a lawyerTakeshi Nakajima as Jaidoku Ganeyama, a yakuza bossLee Cheol-min as Hyung-bae's gang memberGo In-beom as Choi Moo-il, Hyung-bae's fatherKim Young-seon as wife of Ik-hyunPark Byung-eun as adult Choi Joo-han, son of Ik-hyun
Choi Min-sik reportedly put on 10 kilograms for his role and Ha Jung-woo spent 8 hours putting on the fake body tattoos featured in the film.
Nameless Gangster attracted over 4 million admissions in 26 days of release. It drew 1 million in four days, 2.5 million in 11 days, 3 million in 17 days, and 3.5 million in 20 days. According to data provided by Korean Film Council (KOFIC) it topped the list of ten most-watched films in South Korea in the first quarter of 2012, with a total of 4.6 million admissions.
Its success is notable as it was screened in February (traditionally a low season for movies), rated R, and screened less frequently due to its long running time of 133 minutes. Korean Film Biz Zone stated "the film has elements working against it for box office success. Despite that, "the return of" Choi Min-sik melded with top-rated actor of the day Ha Jung-woo is impressive. The two actors' presence is backed up by a solid supporting cast, giving the film a distinct flavor of a gangster classic."
The film ranked #1 for three weeks, two of which were consecutive. It grossed ₩8 billion in its first week of release, and grossed a total of ₩36 billion after nine weeks of screening.
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an audience score of 72%. On IMDb the film has a rating of 7.2/10.
Awards and nominations
2012 Baeksang Arts AwardsBest New Actor - Kim Sung-kyunNomination - Best FilmNomination - Best Director - Yoon Jong-binNomination - Best Actor - Choi Min-sikNomination - Best New Actress - Kim Hye-eunNomination - Best Screenplay - Yoon Jong-bin
2012 Buil Film AwardsBest Actor - Choi Min-sikBest Supporting Actor - Cho Jin-woongBest New Actor - Kim Sung-kyunNomination - Best FilmNomination - Best Director - Yoon Jong-binNomination - Best Actor - Ha Jung-wooNomination - Best Supporting Actor - Kwak Do-wonNomination - Best New Actress - Kim Hye-eunNomination - Best Screenplay - Yoon Jong-binNomination - Best Cinematography - Go Nak-seonNomination - Best Art Direction - Cho Hwa-sungNomination - Best Music - Jo Yeong-wook
2012 Grand Bell AwardsNomination - Best Actor - Choi Min-sikNomination - Best Supporting Actor - Kim Sung-kyunNomination - Best New Actor - Kim Sung-kyun
2012 Korean Association of Film Critics AwardsBest Screenplay - Yoon Jong-bin
2012 Asia Pacific Screen AwardsBest Actor - Choi Min-sikHigh Commendation (2nd highest film prize)
2012 Blue Dragon Film AwardsBest Actor - Choi Min-sikBest Screenplay - Yoon Jong-binBest Music - Jo Yeong-wookPopularity Award - Ha Jung-wooNomination - Best FilmNomination - Best Director - Yoon Jong-binNomination - Best Actor - Ha Jung-wooNomination - Best Supporting Actor - Kwak Do-wonNomination - Best New Actor - Kim Sung-kyunNomination - Best Cinematography - Go Nak-seonNomination - Best Art Direction - Cho Hwa-sungNomination - Best Lighting - Lee Seung-won
2012 Korean Culture and Entertainment AwardsBest New Actor - Kim Sung-kyun
2012 Busan Film Critics AwardsBest Film
2013 KOFRA Film Awards (Korea Film Reporters Association)Best Actor - Choi Min-sik
2013 Asian Film AwardsNomination - Best Actor - Choi Min-sikNomination - Best Supporting Actor - Ha Jung-wooNomination - Best Newcomer - Kim Sung-kyunNomination - Best Screenplay - Yoon Jong-binNomination - Best Art Direction - Cho Hwa-sungNomination - Best Original Score - Jo Yeong-wook
The film's soundtrack was released on February 20, 2012. Jo Yeong-wook, whose credits include Thirst, Oldboy, and Public Enemy, served as the music director, and composed 22 score tracks. Also included was an old K-pop song that was reflective of the era in which the film is set, "I Heard a Rumor" (Korean: 풍문으로 들었소), which was originally sung by 1980s rock band Hahm Joong-ah and the Yankees (Korean: 함중아와 양키스). The cover version sung by rock band Jang Ki-ha and the Faces played during the end credits sequence of the film, and was released on January 13, 2012 as a single.
- War on Crime Part 1 (범죄와의 전쟁 Part 1) – 2:33
- Year 1982 (1982년) – 2:28
- Ourselves (우리끼리) – 1:55
- Thugs (양아치) – 2:53
- Memories of a Beach (해변의 추억) – 4:03
- Road (길) – 1:52
- Gangsters (건달들) – 2:28
- War on Crime Part 2 (범죄와의 전쟁 Part 2) – 2:16
- Pedigree (족보) – 2:48
- Road of the War – 1:45
- Crossroad (교차로) – 2:38
- Target (타겟) – 2:15
- To Another World (또 다른 세상으로) – 3:02
- Cold Wall (차가운 벽) – 1:33
- God of Lobbying (로비의 신) – 2:03
- War on Crime Part 3 (범죄와의 전쟁 Part 3) – 4:10
- Profitable Suggestion (유익한 제안) – 2:52
- Dead-end Road (막다른 길) – 2:05
- War on Crime Part 4 (범죄와의 전쟁 Part 4) – 5:49
- Sun Filled (태양은 가득히) – 1:54
- In My Soul of Souls – 4:21
- War on Crime Part 5 (범죄와의 전쟁 Part 5) – 2:44
- I Heard a Rumor (풍문으로 들었소) – 3:16
The film has been parodied in many popular variety shows on TV, such as Gag Concert and Infinite Challenge. Comedians aped the film characters' hairstyle and fashion, and the use of the phrase "Sara Itne" (Hangul: 살아 있네, akin to meaning 'fresh') and the song "I Heard a Rumor."
It was also parodied by members of the boy band Shinhwa in their 2013 Shinhwa Grand Finale: The Classic in Seoul concerts in August 2013.