Don’t glorify gangstersGangster movies became an independent genre in the 1920s. As organized crime in the business of smuggling liquor during the 20 years of prohibition started rising in power, Hollywood transformed this phenomenon into entertainment. The advent of sound films increased the reality of gangster movies.
The criminals in these movies were underhanded, and they often suffered miserable ends through justice. However, the movies would subtly distort reality; organized crime was portrayed as operating in the same manner as large American corporations that controlled society.
Criminals in movies came from the lower classes and were portrayed as entering a life of crime because of their socioeconomic status. Movies were critical of a societal structure that bred evil.
After enjoying success in the 1920s and 1930s, gangster movies hit a lull before making a comeback in the 1950s. The movie “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967) portrayed real life 1930s gangsters as 1960s type antiheros. “The Godfather” (1971) made a huge impact. It was more than a simple gangster movie ― it became a legendary metaphor that criticized capitalism.
What about Chungmuro (Korea’s film headquarters)? Movie critic Jeong Seong-il wrote in “The History of Korean Movies” that “Korean action movies [which started as gangster movies in the 1950s and 1960s] had nothing to do with Hollywood gangster movies or that type of film noir.” The same is true for the series of organized gangster movies like “The General’s Son” (1990) or “Friends” (2001). Instead of being critical of society and reflecting the nature of violence, these movies focused on “macho fantasy.” The trademark of these movies was a reproduction of the “boss culture,” nostalgia for paternal power and the idolization of strength. They made gangster movies for men.
A new subgenre of movies, gangster comedy, made its debut in the 2000s. This genre mixes invective language and violence with comedy. They are a hit during the holidays in our country, but it is a uniquely Korean style of movie difficult to find in any other country. Further, gangsters are common in Korean movies regardless of their genre.
The connection between movies and gangsters was highlighted during the case of a gangster blackmailing a movie star. The incident shows that gangsters still corrupt the entertainment world. Many criticize the glorification of gangsters in Korean film. Have gangsters become too familiar? We now live in a world where an active elementary school girl is nicknamed “gangster” by her friends.
*The writer is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Yang Sung-hee [firstname.lastname@example.org]