Hello everyone and welcome back to another “Top Korean Movies by Genre” content by EonTalk! Today’s topic will be on the “Must Watch Korean Gangster Movies.” This genre of Korean cinema is one of my favorites, as it combines some of the best elements of Korean films, such as crime, thriller, and action. Also, it’s so different from the gang and crime organizations of the US and other countries, and has a very unique theme to it. Today, I’ve compiled a list of 10 movies that I believe are the best in the genre of gangster and crime organizations.
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Before getting into the list, I’d like to remind you that this list is ranked based on my personal recommendations, not the ratings, and are totally biased towards my opinions. I’ve tried to include both older and newer films, in order to keep a good balance. That being said, let’s get right into today’s content on “Must Watch Korean Gangster Movies!”
Starting off the list, the #10 film is the 2015-released movie, <Gangnam Blues>.
<Gangnam Blues> was directed by Yoo Ha, who also directed <Crazy Marriage>, <Once Upon a Time in High School>, <Howling>, and <A Dirty Carnival>, and the film starred the likes of Lee Min-Ho, Kim Rae-Won, and Jung Jin-Young. The movie had an audience rating of 7.76, and a box office number of 2.19 million. The synopsis of <Gangnam Blues> is as follows:
Jong-Dae and Yong-Gi are orphans who live a very hard life, but rely on each other like brothers. One day, their home is demlished by local thugs, and in order to make money, they get involved in violent political clashes. There, they are separated, and three years later, Jong-Dae becomes a member of a gang, and Yong-Gi becomes a part of a powerful criminal organization. They become entangled in a high-stakes battle over land in Gangnam, and fights over various spots and other issues arise.
Next, the #9 film is a movie that was released back in 2017, <The Merciless>.
<The Merciless> was directed by Byun Sung-Hyun, who directed the comedic film <My PS Partner> (or <Watcha Wearin>), and an upcoming movie titled <King Maker>. The film featured the actors Seol Kyung-Ku, Lim Si-Wan, Kim Hee-Won, Jun Hye-Jin, and Lee Kyung-Young, and rated 8.14, and had a box office number of 960K. The synopsis of <The Merciless> is as follows:
Jae-Ho seeks to be the #1 man of a gang; Hyun-Su is a fearless rookie. The two meet while in prison, and form a strong bond. After getting out, the two work together to gain more power. However, the duo’s true ambitions start to reveal, little by little. As they start to learn new things about each other, their relationship also begins to falter. A game of trust and betrayal begins.
The #8 movie goes to the most recently released movie on this list, <The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil>.
Directed by Lee Won-Tae, who also directed <Man of Will>, <The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil> had a cast lineup of Ma Dong-Seok aka Don Lee, Kim Mu-Yeol, and Kim Sung-Kyu. This was probably the most badass role Don Lee played in a movie. The film had a rating of 8.55 with a box office record of 3.36 million. The synopsis of the film is as follows:
Jang Dong-Soo is the boss of a massive gang; a mobster; a thug. He fears no one, and everyone fears him. This powerful gangster coincidentally comes across a serial killer, who attempts to kill him by stabbing him multiple times. However, this “devil” finds the “gangster” to be too strong, and ultimately fails to finish the job. He flees the scene, Dong-Soo ends up being hospitalized, and miraculously survives the incident. With his blood boiling with rage and fury, he schemes to find the man who tried to murder him, and get his revenge. Meanwhile, Jung Tae-Seok, the “cop,” connects the dots of the several murder cases that recently took place, and learns Dong-Soo also fell victim to the “devil.” Thus, he meets and persuades Dong-Soo to partner-up in finding the serial killer, and the pursuit of the “devil” begins.
Moving along, the #7 movie is the 2015 film, <Inside Men>.
<Inside Men> was directed by Woo Min-Ho, who directed other productions such as <The Spies>, <The Drug King>, and <The Man Standing Next>. The film had an ensemble cast of Lee Byung-Hun, Cho Seung-Woo, Baek Yoon-Shik, Lee Kyung-Young, Kim Hong-Pa, and Bae Sung-Woo, and although this movie was an amazing film, it wasn’t placed higher on the list, as it didn’t have as strong of a “gangster” element as the other movies higher on this list. <Inside Men> had an audience score of 9.06, and a box office record of 7.07 million, the highest on this list. The synopsis of the movie is as follows:
The leading presidential candidate, a chairman of a conglomerate, and a renowned editorial writer who has massive power to sway public opinion, plan a scheme to give the presidential candidate the upperhand. Ahn Sang-Koo plans a transaction to release records of the sponsored sludge fund, and once he gets caught, he pays the price by getting his hand chopped off. Once prosecutor Woo Jang-Hoon smells something fishy with the upcoming elections, he starts to dig into the background story of what went on with the candidate, chairman, and editor. However, the investigation is short-lived, as the record of the sludge fund was taken by Ahn. The man that wants revenge on the politically powerful, the one that wants to use Ahn to reveal the sludge fund records, and the men who need to swipe it all under the rug. Who will come out on top?
The #6 movie goes to an older movie, the 2006 film, <A Dirty Carnival>.
This movie was directed by Yoo-Ha, who was mentioned earlier for directing <Gangnam Blues>, and starred the actors Jo In-Sung, Chun Ho-Jin, Namgoong Min, Lee Bo-Young, and Jin Goo. <A Dirty Carnival> showed the hardships of living as a gang member, and also had great action scenes. This movie had an audience score of 8.79, and recorded 1.82 million at the box offices. The synopsis of <A Dirty Carnival> is as follows:
Byung-Doo is a twenty-nine year-old gangster from Seoul who’s second in rank in his gang. Although his drive and ambition are hot, Byung-Doo finds it difficult to compete against other fellow members, as all he can do is go around intimidating the locals to pay their debts. Not only this, but his family faces financial problems, and he needs to take care of his sick mother and two siblings. When all seemed to be going downhill, an opportunity presents itself to Byung-Doo. Mr. Hwang proposes that he’ll take care of Byung-Doo if he can get rid of the prosecutor that’s been on him, and Byung-Doo accepts. Once his task is done, he feels as though everything is going great, and all his problems are solved. But are they really?
Starting off the top 5, the #5 movie is the 2017 film <The Outlaws>.
<The Outlaws> was directed by Kang Yoon-Sung, who also directed <Long Live the King>, and starred the likes of Ma Dong-Seok aka Don Lee, Yoon Kye-Sang, Cho Jae-Yoon, Choi Kwi-Hwa, park Ji-Hwan, and Jin Seon-Kyu. The chemistry between the cast members were great, and the performances by Yoon Kye-Sang and Jin Seon-Kyu were especially incredible. As opposed to other gangs of the movies on this list, the gangs in <The Outlaws> weren’t fully Korean, but had Chinese-Korean gangs, and this is where Yoon Kye-Sang and Jin Seon-Kyu’s execution of their roles was amazing. The audience rating of <The Outlaws> was 9.28, the highest on this list, and had a box office number of 6.88 million. The synopsis of <The Outlaws> is as follows:
In 2004, a vicious boss of a new crime organization, Jang-Chen, comes to Seoul from Harbin and overthrows the existing gangs. In order to catch the upcoming thug, the beastly cop, Ma Suk-Do, who’s famous for using his fist to maintain peace in the neighborhood, and his team plan a strategy to end the reign of the recently-formed gang.
Moving onto the #4 spot, the #4 movie goes to another older film, a classic released in 2005: <A Bittersweet Life>.
<A Bittersweet Life> was directed by the amazing Kim Ji-Woon, who’s responsible for directing other extraordinary movies such as <A Tale of Two Sisters>, <The Good, The Bad, The Weird>, <I Saw the Devil>, and <The Age of Shadows>. <A Bittersweet Life> starred the cast members Lee Byung-Hun, Kim Young-Chul, Shin Min-Ah, Hwang Jung-Min, and Eric, and I didn’t place it further up on the list because it is a more older movie, and because of this, the style does feel a little older. This isn’t to say that it’s a negative, per se, and is still a classic, nonetheless. The audience rating was 8.83, and the box office number was 1.11 million. The synopsis of <A Bittersweet Life> is as follows:
After dedicating his life to working for his boss, Mr. Kang, Sun-Woo is able to attain the boss’ complete trust, as well as the management of a hotel sky lounge. Mr. Kang is blunt when it comes to trust and keeping loyalty, and he has a young girlfriend that he’s kept as a secret, named Hee-Soo. Suspicious that his girlfriend is cheating on him, Mr. Kang appoints Sun-Woo to follow Hee-Soo, and if he finds out that she has another man, to get rid of them. After following Hee-Soo around for three days, he finds her with another man, but at the last minute, lets them go. Thinking that that was the best option for everybody, he hopes everything will just go back to the way they were, but he couldn’t be more wrong. His merciful decision has put the target on his back and launched an irreversible war with the gang.
Coming in at #3 of my list of best Korean gangster movies is the oldest film on this list, <Friend>.
<Friend> was directed by Kwak Kyung-Taek, who directed other good films such as <Typhoon>, <Eye For An Eye>, <The Classified File>, <Battle of Jangsari>, and the sequel to <Friend>, <Friend: The Great Legacy>. The movie featured the actors Yoo Oh-Sung, Jang Dong-Gun, Seo Tae-Hwa, and Jung Woon-Taek, and is probably the movie that started off this genre of Korean gangster movies of organized crime. This is a classic, and although it’s nearly 20 years old now, it’s still a great movie to watch. As mentioned, the film has a sequel, titled <Friend: The Great Legacy>, or just “Friend 2,” and although it isn’t as good as the first, it was a watchable movie that follows up on the prequel. The audience rated <Friend> a score of 8.6, and the box office record was not available for this film, as it’s such an older movie. The synopsis is as follows:
1976 – 13 years old, age of curiosity – Jun-Seok, the son of a gang leader; Dong-Soo, the son of a funeral director; Sang-Taek, the loving son of a loving family; and Joong-Ho, the son of smugglers. These four boys were inseparable, best friends. From stealing Playboy magazines and impersonating Bruce Lee, they did everything together.
1981 – 18 years old, age of aspiration – Jun-Seok took care of his friends like a big brother; Dong-Soo feels he’s inferior to Jun-Seok; Sang-Taek is one of the smartest kids in school; and Joong-Ho, a jokster that knows how to make his friends laugh. The boys see a performance by a group of girls at a nearby high school, and Jun-Seok and Sang-Taek fall for the same girl in the group.
1983 – 20 years old, age of separation – Joong-Ho and Sang-Taek are admitted into college, and they try to locate their other two friends that they were not in contact with. They find out that Dong-Soo is in jail, and that Jun-Seok is a druggie.
1990 – 27 years old, age of sorrow – Jun-Seok becomes a leader of a gang, and Dong-Soo betrays Jun-Seok and joins a rival gang; Sang-Taek prepares to leave for the US, and Joong-Ho gets married and runs a restaurant. As Sang-Taek leaves for America, he wishes to see his friends one last time, but Jun-Seok and Dong-Soo don’t show up. That’s when he feels something’s wrong, and foresees what’s to come.
And now, just two movies left. Two of my favorite gangster movies. First, the #2 film was a movie released in 2013, <New World>.
Directed by Park Hoon-Jung, who also directed other incredible films such as <The Tiger>, <VIP>, and <The Witch: Part 1 – The Subversion>, <New World> isn’t only one of my favorite Korean gangster movies, but also one of my favorite Korean movies in general. I’ve got a video going over hidden secrets and facts about the film, titled “30 Things You Didn’t Know About New World,” so be sure to check that out to learn some entertaining info regarding the film. Anyways, <New World> had amazing performances by Lee Jung-Jae, Choi Min-Shik, Hwang Jung-Min, Park Sung-Woong, and Song Ji-Hyo, and had an audience rating of 8.93 with a box office number of 4.68 million. The synopsis of <New World> is as follows:
The president of the major crime organization, Gold Moon, suddenly dies, leaving the next top two directors, Jung Chung and Joong-Gu as potential successors of the president seat. Seeing this as an opportunity, the police launch an operation called “New World,” utilizing a weapon they planted years before. Jung Chung’s right hand man, Ja-Sung, is an undercover cop that’s been keeping a close eye from the inside on Gold Moon for 8 years, being supervised by Police Chief Kang. With a baby on the way and living in fear of being exposed by Gold Moon, Ja-Sung is torn between his duty and honor as a cop, and the fiercely loyal organization members.
And finally, the #1 Korean gangster film. The #1 spot goes to the 2012 film that’s a staple when it comes to organized crime movies: <Nameless Gangster: Rules of Time>.
<Nameless Gangster: Rules of Time> was directed by Yoon Jong-Bin, the director of <Beastie Boys>, <KUNDO: Age of the Rampant>, and <The Spy Gone North>. This movie starred and had incredible performances by Choi Min Shik, Ha Jung-Woo, Cho Jin-Woong, Ma Dong-Seok aka Don Lee, Kwak Do-Won, and Kim Sung-Kyun, and I had a really hard time choosing between <New World> and this for the #1 spot, but I ultimately decided to go with <Nameless Gangster: Rules of Time> as I felt that it was better at expressing the “gangster” element of the genre. The film was rated an 8.63 by the audience, and had a box office number of 4.72 million. The synopsis of <Nameless Gangster: Rules of Time> is as follows:
In Busan, 1982, a corrupt customs officer, Choi Ik-Hyun, is on the verge of being laid off, when he finds a methamphetamine shipment. His life turns around when he partners up with the harbor city’s biggest crime organization boss, Choi Hyung-Bae, who they eventually find out are distant relatives. With the money from drug trafficking, Hyung-Bae helps Ik-Hyun set up a business, and Ik-Hyun lobbies for his partner, Hyung-Bae, with his unique wit and ability to make people like him. Together, they pursue to take over Busan. However, things take a turn for the worst when the partnership turns sour over dealings with a rival organization. Soon after, the government declares a war on crime, and Ik-Hyun decides to set up his partner and escape the law on his own.
And that’s it for today’s post on “Must Watch Korean Gangster Movies.” Some films that you believe should have made it on this list may not have been included, but please remember that this top 10 list was based on my personal recommendations. Nonetheless, I’d love to hear which movies you believe are deserving of the title “Best Korean Gangster Movies,” as well as movies on this list that you’ve seen and enjoyed, so please leave a comment or join in on discussions on the EonTalk Telegram group. If you have requests for other genres or other types of content, please let me know by commenting down below as well. Thanks!
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Please keep in mind this review is composed of solely my own opinions, and should be taken with a grain of salt. I am in no way a professional writer, nor have I majored or studied journalism. This is for informative entertainment purpose only, representing my personal views. I do not own the images and/or videos used in the review. No copyright infringement intended.