Nameless Gangster ★★★★

Of those films that I've seen in 2012's New York Asian Film Festival lineup, this is one of the few undeniable must-see's... especially if you're a fan of Korean gangster movies like I am. No, don't expect star (and festival guest) Choi Min-Sik to show up in ruthless, larger-than-life alpha-male mode. In fact, the opposite is true, as you might have guessed from the title, which actually might reflect the story better if it were "Anonymous Gangster" since its protagonist is a master of under-the-radar machinations during his rise to power. In a performance mesmerizing for its subtlety, Choi delivers the kind of character study whose subject is-- well, you honestly can't tell if he's an opportunistic weakling, or if he's "crazy like a fox" and is in reality the most ruthless of all the lowlifes on screen. Choi's perfectly complemented by the always-good Ha Jung-Woo, who uses his sleepy-eyed menace to best effect. Not an action thriller, not a legal thriller, but a "crime drama" in the best, deepest sense of the label, Nameless Gangster is the kind of smart genre pic that you just can't take your eyes off of. Every scene is just so well crafted, each a self-contained mini-drama, that you don't want the overall saga to end, but to continue on and on. A real triumph.