The New Korean Mafia: Rise of the Backstreet Mobster

Korean gangsters showing their tatoos

While most of us will be familiar with their Japanese counterparts, the Yakuza, outside of Korea very little is known about the Korean mafia. Known in Korean as the Kkangpae, Jopok, or sometimes Geondal, the Korean mafia is thought to have a history that stretches as far back as the 17th century, although it was not until the 1960s that organised crime became more widespread. In recent years the Korean mafia have been popularised within Korea in films such as ‘A Bittersweet Life’, ‘Breathless’, and the series of comedy films ‘My Wife is a Gangster’, lending a dangerous, dark glamour to the gangster life.

But now a new breed of ‘gangster’ is emerging that the police and the media are terming the ‘backstreet mobster’ (golmok jopok). Working alone and threatening citizens and small businesses with violence, the backstreet mobster is increasingly becoming a social problem. [The police have released a YouTube animation entitled ‘What is a Backstreet Mobster?’ describing for the public exactly what a backstreet mobster is.] As this feature posted on Nate shows, netizens are highly critical of these criminals, with many agreeing that such people are simply thugs.

From Nate

They Take Money and Even Threaten People with Hand-Axes: The Many Faces of Backstreet Mobsters.

‘Fear of Reprisals’ Leads to Reluctance to Report Crimes, Encourages Damage…Reporting is the Only Way Forward.

Hey, X! Bring a bowl of dog stew over here!

Midday on July 6, when the summer rain was falling, pitter-patter. In a dog-stew restaurant in Shim-gok dong, in Bucheon city in Gyeonggi-do, ‘that guy’s voice’ resonates.

There is no one from the whole Shim-dong area in the restaurant who doesn’t know Mr.Lee (45), a well-built man who stands 180cm tall. On days when he can’t work because of the rain, Lee, who is a labourer, comes to this local restaurant, which is run by a single woman, and picks fights with customers for no reason, causing chaos at the restaurant.

When asked to pay for a meal that he has eaten of just over 10,000 won ($10), he curses unspeakable words at customers on the table opposite, and it is a daily occurrence for customers to leave the restaurant as though they are being pursued.

[His behaviour] is a real headache. It’s the first time I’ve seen a person like this. I’ve been working here for three years, but even the owner has said he doesn’t want to accept that man as a customer if at all possible. Because he’s harming our other customers.

Lee’s actions make the proprietors of the restaurant very angry, but they can’t deal with Lee directly, and think that ‘since the cost of the damage is not too high, and he is someone from our own neighbourhood, it’s enough if we just don’t let him in.’

While traders deal with him reluctantly, Lee’s tyranny has gone on for three years, and local restaurant traders have had to lose over 2,000,000 won in restaurant bills.

The traders at Suwon city Nammmun market have also been vexed over the past year because of ‘homeless Kkangpae‘ who use violence.

Mr. Song (47), who has eighteen previous convictions, sleeps rough in the Nammun area, ‘hasn’t been out of prison that long’, and threatens traders, saying, ‘I’m asking nicely so give me some money!’

He grabs fruit and vegetables that are on the market stalls and eats them to his heart’s content, and regularly intimidates people: ‘Give me five hundred (50c) or a thousand won ($1)!’

When the traders didn’t give them money or they couldn’t drink free alcohol, they flatly harassed people. As regards shouting inside the market and whether or not they use violence, on the 29th of last month one man threatened traders with a hand-axe he had obtained from a construction site and was even charged by the police for his actions.

If trying to appease them by asking them not to do it doesn’t work, then it has become very normal to report them to the police. Seeing as there are a lot of women here, they are frightened and worried that they might encounter them, so they can’t report them properly themselves.

The damage caused by these so called ‘backstreet mobsters’ who go around traditional markets or street vendor stalls taking money and using violence is at a severe level. These people, termed gangsters or mobsters, persistently bother merchants, but because the damage is only minor or perhaps because they fear reprisals, they hand over money a few times, but this can also encourage the damage.

A backstreet mobster caught on CCTV

A backstreet mobster caught on CCTV. Source

Actually, in Nongok-dong in Shiheung, people like Mr. Jeon (50), who runs a fishery, and nine other fishery owners like him had 4,200,000 won in total stolen from them by a man who said he would ‘report their illegal activities’ over a period of a month from last January.

Mr. Noh (59), who has fifty-three previous convictions including blackmail, said ‘Fisheries are a goldmine’ and explained that one fishery owner who had reported Noh to 112 [the number for the police in South Korea] and the city hall several times had given him 30,000 to 50,000 ($30 -$50) thinking that it would get rid of him.

No had also habitually threatened noraebang owners like this, but finally on June 5 he was put in prison.

Police ‘Wiping Out Retalliatory Crimes at the Source Through a Dedicated Police Hotline’

The police policy is to eradicate backstreet mobsters who are obstructing businesses by taking money and valuables and threatening violence.

While Gyeonggi police, who are stampng out backstreet mobsters together with drunken violence and organised violence, are operating 63 special investigation teams comprising 306 people, they are also increasing patrols in the vicinities of playgrounds and parks, and focussing on prevention.

Though the Gyeonggi police arrested 130 people in 2011 under the extortion and violence law, up to May this year they have already made 123 arrests.

They have also prepared strategies to protect those who report crimes.

From the stage of reporting a crime to preventing the outflow of information about those who report the crimes, there is a plan to protect the safety of those who report crimes and those who suffer losses through the ‘Review Committee For Prevention of Reprisals’. Furthermore, they are co-operating with self-governing bodies and citizen groups and are also implementing strategies to educate those who suffer losses and to prevent second offences.

Along with this the police are also asking that citizens actively report crimes.

A Gyeonggi police spokesperson explained:

If only we have citizen reports then the police can take affirmative action against the damage caused by backstreet mobsters in people’s lives.

He went on:

For citizens who are frightened of reprisals like harassment and so on, we intend to do our best to prevent reprisals through establishing dedicated officers and a hotline.’

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Comments from Nate


For the seven months that remain of the president’s term of office, if he fought against organised violence, drunken violence, gangsters, and school bullies, had a war against crime and cleaned up the government, then this would be a respectable acheivement worth the 22 trillion won more than the Four Major Rivers Project.


All the left-wing are real gangsters.


Seems like the law’s on their side, right? Stop that kind of scum. Try fighting fire with fire….It’s because of the stupid laws in this country. National assembly members, make some laws that make sense for once!


Why do we distinguish between gangsters and thugs based on their actions? ㅡㅡ ke ke I guess the difference is whether they’re a gangster or a thug, have a gang or not. No matter, they’re all just the same scum.


Difference between a gangster and a thug
Gangster: Doesn’t pick fights with normal citizens
Thug: Goes around behaving wildly like they were a gangster
Therefore, these guys are just run of the mill thugs on the street. Bastards.




I don’t know about other things, but this must be one of the things that President Chun Doo Hwan did well..Because of the Samcheong education camp where they tightened the screws on the thugs and several gangs after arresting them, I want to acknowledge that the crime problem kind of disappeared…[‘Samcheong education’ refers to the re-education of supposed gangsters at the notorious Samcheong camp under the rule of Chun Doo Hwan] They should arrest the gangsters and put them on a deserted island and let them fight it out amongst themselves like in the movie ‘Battle Royale’. Then the prick who comes first would be given the right to live happily in prison…Fucking hellCrazy sons of bitches


Honestly, most of that kind of person are originally from Jeolla province or their parents are from Jeolla province.


They’re scum, all different kinds of cunt-scum going around


Nowadays even in the health club I go to there are a few gangster bastards like that, and every time I shower they’re gathered there in a group snickering and swearing, giggling as they look you up and down, but seriously if those stupid gangster bastards are there alone, they’re completely silent, can’t even open their mouths. If those disgusting bastards get tattoos, do they think they’ll be frightening? Animal bastards.


Are the human rights commission seeing this?


Aren’t gangsters always like ‘What’s a life you live once? We only live once, do others live twice?’ The ignorant attitude that you can solve everything through violence is really a social ill.


Just kill yourselves! What are you living for?


Backstreet mobsters what a load of shit…they’re just thugs tut tut They assume that because someone is weaker than them they’ll just take it…but they’re not even worth the effort.


If even by reporting them reprisals follow, then…from the start make it so that they can’t take revenge; re-start the Samcheong education camp, these bastards deserve hard labour. We should make their lives hell


This is nostalgic for Chun Doo Hwan…This is, this is…..just so nostalgic, Chun Doo Hwan, sir.


Mobsters’ shitty neighbourhood, thug bastards’ neighbourhoods, even the thugs are embarrassed, so they don’t do this kind of thing. Freaks. Fuck off, scum.


Backstreet mobster bastards, chop off their wrists…..blind rats!


They’re from Jeolla, and no mistake.


Like shit they’re gangsters… They just like scummy neighbourhood thugs…


Shoot gangsters dead on sight!! They’re just human waste, scum; they don’t even have any purpose in an upright society.


Bastard human scumbags~ You bastards are worth even less than dog shit.

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