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Ruthless Foreign Gangsters

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Archie: You gotta watch it with these Russians, Len. They ain't no respecters of the old school.
Lenny: Bollocks. There's no school like the old school, and I'm the fucking headmaster.

A common reason for a Mob War is an outsider faction — often The Cartel, The Mafiya, The Triads and the Tongs, or the Yakuza — attempting to gain foothold on new ground, stepping on the foot of a local gang. In these cases, the invading new criminals are generally seen as more ruthless and prone to break the local's code of honour.


The grain of Truth in Television, of course, is that organized criminal families that want to get from day to day in a community have to maintain public relations, and thus on home ground cannot play as dirty as elsewhere. However, that's about the only "reality" there is to the trope; Asian, Latin American, and Eastern European gangsters, despite their media reputation, readily cooperate with established criminal elements and play by the same rules as the locals. Without the police and criminal protection that local racketeers can buy them, they just degenerate into hand-to-mouth street gangs.

During the 1980s The Cartel would be a popular candidate, after the Soviet Union collapsed, Organizatsiya and their east block cousins took the role.

See also Mob War. Sometimes the moral is that Our Criminals Are Better. The ruthless foreigners tend to be very good at scaring anyone out of testifying against them. When the Foreign Gangsters aren't particularly worse than the home-turf ones, they're just a Generic Ethnic Crime Gang. Compare Ruthless Modern Pirates.


An occasional subversion of this trope is establishing the "local gangs" as so absurdly ruthless even within their home turf (or make it especially in their home turf) that the foreign gangsters are either comparatively harmless or the only true difference is that they are... well, foreign.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Black Lagoon:
    • In a series full of ruthless organized crime groups, Hotel Moscow stands head and shoulders above the rest, mainly because the core of the Thai branch of the organization is former Soviet Spetsnaz and paratroopers led by a burn-scarred woman named Balalaika who served in Afghanistan in The '80s. Dutch speaks in hushed tones of the carnage they wrought when they first moved in, and in one arc Hotel Moscow calls Balalaika in to consolidate a foothold in Japan through an alliance with a local Yakuza clan. Like The Chessmaster she is, she does just that... after essentially declaring war on said Yakuza (because it was more glorious that way) and going on a campaign of military-precise terror so brutal that neither the Yakuza nor the police can think of how to react.
    • The hometown of the cast, Roanapur, is usually an inversion of this trope — the town is such a Wretched Hive that it's hard to find anyone more ruthless than its normal citizenry moving in. When the Florida cartel tries to make a move within the city, they're mostly treated like Naive Newcomers and considered endearing and cute by the resident gangster community, even by other Americans (such as Dutch, Revy, and Benny) who've been living in the city for years before they came along.

  • According to the man Makima was bargaining with, this is why the Yakuza groups of Chainsaw Man don't infight too much: Groups from China or Russia are supposedly much worse.

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man - Subverted with Black Tarantula, a crime lord from Argentina trying to expand his empire to the States, starting with New York. He's almost a saint compared to other Marvel villains however. In later Daredevil comics, he convinces people he's reformed and even after turning on Daredevil, uses his powers to heal him after getting his money. Oh and he leaves Daredevil some of the money saying help somebody with it!
  • The Punisher MAX - One of the most horrifically brutal versions pops up here, naturally, in "The Slavers" story arc. The titular criminals are from the Eastern European country of Romania who bring a human trafficking ring into New York, and fall under Frank Castle's personal attention. Notably, this gang is so vicious and horrible that they earn a dubious distinction:
    Castle: It was in that moment that I realized something. A dull, blurred feeling that I’d had since this whole mess began, all of a sudden crystal clear. It had been a long, long time since I hated anyone the way I hated them.
    • Oddly reinforced in how they hold the distinction of being the only group to "beat" Frank Castle in a gunfight (read: forcing Frank Castle to flee for his life) when Garth Ennis was writing the 2004-2008 run.
  • Sin City features a German mob boss named Herr Wallenquist.

  • The Italian Job (2003): The Ukrainian mob is so ruthless, even the Korean mob won't mess with it. The sub-plot that starts when Steve blows away a black-market fencer that turns out to be family of the local Ukrainian Don is tinged with everybody crapping their pants as a result. There's also a Samoan gang, whose leader wisely advises "Never mess with Mother Nature, mother-in-laws, or mother-freakin' Ukrainians."
  • Invoked on The Italian Job (1969) when the British heist crew encounters the Mafia early on. Charlie Coker threatens that if the Mafia kills them, Mr. Bridger will demolish every single Italian venture over on England ("he'll drive them into the sea"). The Mafia, at least for the time being, backs off (although they destroy some of the crew's getaway cars for kicks).
  • Layer Cake: The Serbians, who are more a force of nature than another one of the players in the London underworld. Their operation is also so vast that when one of their deals goes bad, their only real concern is killing everyone responsible rather than recovering their merchandise.
  • Taken is set in France, with Albanians as the villains.
  • In the Brandon Lee vehicle Rapid Fire, the previous Big Bad is executed in his jail cell by the men of an Asian crime lord about midway through the movie after getting his ass kicked by the hero. The crimelord then becomes the new Big Bad.
  • In The Long Good Friday, East End mob boss Harold Shand tries to make a property deal with the American mafia, but suddenly all his men start getting bombed. Shand eventually realizes that he's somehow incurred the wrath of the IRA. Everyone tells him that the IRA is too psychotic to fight, but he tries to out-muscle them. It doesn't go well for him. Interestingly, the Mafiosi are portrayed as simple businessmen who don't want any bloodshed getting in the way of a deal.
  • The Yakuza take on this role with respect to The Mafia in The Punisher (1989).
  • Training Day has an unnamed Russian crime group that is out for Alonzo's head after he killed one of their people in Las Vegas. Even though Alonzo is a corrupt cop with a lot of power in the underworld, he needs to get lot of money to pay them off, or they'll kill him.
  • In Pusher, Frank incurs debt to Milo, a ruthless Serbian drug lord in Denmark. In the third film, Milo runs afoul of even more ruthless Albanians.
  • Bad Boys
    • The French gang boss Fouchet in Bad Boys (1995) whose plan seems to revolve around killing every single person he comes into contact with.
    • Bad Boys II has a Cuban drug lord Johnny Tapia, who will kill his own cousin without hesitation for failure and his idea of "negotiating" with The Mafiya is to kill one of the Russians that came to his house, cut him to pieces and stuff him in a tortilla container, show the pieces to the other Russian (who is the dead guy's cousin, by the way) and threaten the man's family for good measure.
  • Cradle 2 the Grave has arms dealers from Taiwan take out the local thugs.
  • War (2007) involves a long-standing feud between the Triads and the Yakuza.
  • In Showdown in Little Tokyo, the Yakuza are portrayed as this in a meeting they have in their drug refinery with several established American gangs, including Mexicans, African Americans and bikers. Yoshida cuts off one of the bikers' hands with his katana over a racial insult and cajoles the rest of the gangs to accept his leadership.
  • The Chechen from The Dark Knight is portrayed as more ruthless and morally ambiguous in comparison to Sal Maroni and Gambol, his respective Italian and black counterparts in the Gotham City mob. Of note, he is much more eager to hire The Joker to take out Batman than the other two mob bosses are, a fact that comes back to bite him.
  • Inverted in The Raid 2: Berandal, where the local Indonesian gangsters are the real villains, and the foreign Japanese gangsters are mostly pretty blameless.
  • On Jack Reacher, The Zec and his crew are very much this. What they cannot control, they kill, and what they do control is strong-armed into obeying by making sure they understand that the choice is simple: be a puppet or die horribly.
  • In The Hitman, an Iranian gang is butting in on the territories of an Italian American and French Canadian gang in the Pacific Northwest and quickly establish themselves as far more ruthless than their competitors.
  • Rock N Rolla: Although the quote above is Lenny giving what he thinks is a Badass Boast, he ends up learning the hard way (as in getting his legs smashed up hard enough to end up wheelchair-bound for life and having to drag himself all the way from the 18th hole of a golf course to the visitor's centre to add insult to injury) that you do not fuck with The Mafiya.
  • The plot of S.W.A.T. revolves around a French mob boss, who flies in and kills an underling (a relative, no less), before being pulled over for a broken taillight and discovered to be wanted by Interpol. He then publicly announces that he'll pay a hundred million dollars to anyone who frees him from police custody, starting a war on the streets. When talking to his lawyer, he asks who they can pay off to get him released. When his lawyer tells him that it's not that simple, he then angrily asks who they can kill to achieve the same result.
  • Predator 2: 1997 Los Angeles is a full-on Beirut-style war zone between the Jamaican and Colombian mafias, with the cops stuck in the middle being, at best, forced to wage equally dirty war for survival and at worse (and most commonly) being bullet sponges for the massive amounts of firepower both gangs have. When the Predator moves in and starts killing gangsters left and right, people actually feel glad about it.
  • In In Order of Disappearance, the Count is convinced that the attacks on his gang are coming from the ruthless Serbian gang that has been muscling their way into Norwegian organized crime. As a result, Nils Dickman's actions spark a Mob War between the Norwegians and the Serbs.
  • The Jackal: The Mafiya, in this specific occasion: in retaliation for the accidental death of his brother (a death that happened because the idiot tried to threaten and then tried to kill a bunch of agents of a joint FBI/FSB task force while being taken into custody), Murad not only declares open season on those cops but orders the assassination of the First Lady of the United States (and he pays millions to the Jackal to make damn sure that it's done in public and in the most violent way the Jackal can devise) as a "this is what happens when you fuck with me" message.
  • Ondine: Ondine/Joanna's drug baron attacks in the third act along with his thugs. They're Romanians, as is she (she's actually his wife) and come into Ireland to get back their drug shipment with brutal efficiency (though they're stopped).
  • Premium Rush: The Chinese Triad is so ruthless that NYPD Detective Robert Monday, after accidentally murdering one of their members, immediately accepts to do a job for them to try to prevent them from killing him in revenge. He doesn't accomplishes the job and the Triad unhesitatingly put a bullet in his brain approximately five seconds later.

  • Inverted in Tamora Pierce's second Beka Cooper novel, where Beka spends most of her time taking out the Ruthless Local Gangsters, while dealing with (relatively) Family Friendly Foreign Gangsters (Rosto the Piper and his friends).
  • In Red Square, a book in the Arkady Renko series, it is discussed how since the fall of the Soviet Union that there are now Chechen Mafiya members in Germany. Germany is still trying to figure out how to react to them, as they don't follow the normal German constraints and are openly brutal.
  • Discussed in a Hardy Boys Casefiles book. Chief Collig mentions to the Hardys that they aren't dealing with their usual organized crime types this time and that a lot of the worst these days come from overseas. He then somewhat sardonically remarks that a stint in a US jail is a vacation compared with what would await them in the old country. The baddies turn out to be indeterminately Eastern European.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Deadwood, a Triad gang under the employ of George Hearst tries to muscle into Deadwood and push out the local Chinese strongman, Mr. Wu. Al Swearengen convinces Hearst to swap his support to Wu, and the Triads are slaughtered.
  • Boardwalk Empire,
    • Owen Sleater, while an Affably Evil enforcer for Nucky Thompson, is also a ruthless former IRA bomber who at one point garrotes an informer so hard that he cuts off the guy's fingers.
    • Italian-born Gyp Rosetti has a reputation for killing people over minor or imaginary slights.
  • In Season 2 of Intelligence (2006), the ruthless foreign gangsters are Americans looking to take over the Vancouver drug trade. The protagonist spends the latter half of the season trying to organize all of the city's rival gangs into a syndicate to freeze the Americans out.
  • In Justified a Colombian drug cartel operating out of Miami ships its drugs through Harlan County, Kentucky and do not want to pay Bo Crowder for 'protecting' their shipments so they arrange for him to be arrested and sent to jail. However, they are content to stay out of Harlan County unless someone there interferes with their business.
    • In season 3 Quarles, a mobster from Detroit, tries to setup a major drug operation in Harlan County and makes the mistake of trying to muscle out Boyd Crowder. Although Quarles is extremely ruthless and deadly, his lack of understanding how things in Harlan County really work dooms him to failure.
  • In the NUMB3RS episode "Backscatter", the Eppes family is targeted by the Russian Mob.
  • The Shield - The Armenian Mob. With the Mexicans, the El Salvadorians, and even the Koreans trying show them up. Frankly, if you're an immigrant minority without a ruthless gang to show for it, you get stepped on. Also somewhat subverted in that the black gangs, who used to play the Ruthless Gangster role, are now the established ones with some standards.
  • The Sopranos - Tony's crew versus Eastern Europeans. Tony also hires a particularly ruthless enforcer, Furio, directly from Naples.
  • An episode of Jake20 involves Yakuza assassins.
  • A Time Trax episode has the cop from the future square off against the Yakuza. We are even shown the practice for Yakuza members of cutting off their own fingers as punishment for failure.
  • There are many criminal gang featured in Sons of Anarchy, both local and foreign, but most are well-implanted in the region and, while violent, aren't excessively so. The exceptions are the two rival Mexican cartels who bring their war to the region in season 4, and the True IRA who show their true colors when their relationship with the Sons is compromised.
  • Played straight at the start of Breaking Bad, in which the Mexican cartels are much more organised and ruthless than the rather chaotic American gangs. And then inverted in the last season, when the all-American Aryan Brotherhood prove to be even more ruthless and psychotic than the Mexicans.
  • Fargo:
    • Fargo Season Two has the Gerhardts, a ruthless family of German immigrants who've carved a trucking empire out of the upper mid-west of America.
    • Fargo Season Three gives us VM Varga, who runs a mysterious syndicate in the Midwest and forcibly takes over Emmit Stussy's parking lot company to launder illegal money. This also extends to his two main enforcers, the Russian brute Yuri Gurka, and the Japanese-rooted Meemo.
  • In Graceland, each season has its own group of foreign gangsters. In the first season, there was Jeremiah Bello and his Nigerians. In the second season, there was the Caza cartel. In the third, there was the Armenians.
  • Used absurdly often throughout the Law & Order franchise (most normally The Mafiya): they are so insanely brutal, even targeting children and killing cops, District Attorneys and even politicians, that being asked to be a witness in a case related to them is seen by most everybody as tantamount to suicide. In one case involving the Columbians, their hitman (a former IRA member) not only kills a DEA agent, but the prosecutor who tried to put the drug lord away, necessitating that she go into witness protection for many years.
  • The Indian Detective: Amal Chandekar, who operates mostly in Canada instead of India like his brother.
  • Crossing Lines: The Italian Mafia take on this role for once, when a pair of Slovenian petty criminals, whose community has been all but enslaved by Nicola Conti's outfit rob one of his drug warehouses and kidnap his daughter. Conti's gun thug Gian Carlo proceeds to go on a rampage through northern Italy and Slovenia, leaving forty-two people dead in the course of an afternoon as he tries to retrieve both Conti's daughter and the stolen drugs.
  • Z Nation has the "Zeros", The Remnant of the Mexican Cartels, which are trying to take over the (post-Zombie Apocalypse) world and use as their personal Bread and Circuses "Z-Weed", marijuana grown on soil fertilized with zombie corpses that is (somehow) more potent than the standard variety. Their ruthlessness its such that they kill several scientists that would have produced a cure to the zombie virus (usually by force-feeding them their own experimental cures and tossing them to the zombies) so they (hopefully) find one that works that they will trade to the population for their loyalty.
  • Twin Peaks surprisingly does this with a French Canadian crime family, the Renault Brothers, who have a hand in most of the crooked dealings in town.
  • Zigzagged on British historical crime drama Peaky Blinders, with early seasons playing it relatively straight, but as the show goes on, the real source of danger is increasingly associated with homegrown White Anglo-Saxon Protestant factions and political organizations working within the law, particularly the emerging Union of British Fascists.
    • Played relatively in the first series, where the Shelby Family (who are of partial Roma descent) are trying to horn in on the business of the generically-English (read: less foreign than the Shelbys) gang lead by Billy Kimber. The Italian Changretta family and an unnamed Chinese gang also feature as players the Shelbys need to be wary of, and Thomas speaks specifically of the Italian gang's "barbarity". There's also the Lee Family, a pure-blooded Romani clan of whom the Shelbys run afoul, and who are shown to be truly ruthless in wartime, although Thomas is able to patch things up with a bit of Altar Diplomacy, and in later seasons the Lees appear as key allies and enforcers for the Shelbys.
    • The Shelbys once again take this role on in the second season as they try to expand into London, although in this case it's more because they're from Oop North rather than for any reasons of nationality, since the other two gangs are the Sabini Organization (Italians) and Alfie Solomons' Jewish gang that controls Camden Town. Both the first two seasons also occasionally feature the IRA as another important faction - they're treated unsympathetically, but come across as emphatically no worse than their British imperialist enemies. However, the real villain at this point in the series isn't Sabini, Solomons, or anyone in the IRA, but the bitter, bigoted Dirty Cop Inspector Cambpell.
    • The third series' villains aren't even gangsters, and come across as the most vile antagonists the show had yet featured, although some of them - a family of exiled Russian aristocrats - are indeed foreign. The Shelbys also finally go to war against the Changrettas, who are depicted as nowhere near able to compete in terms of barbarity, to the point where you feel kind of bad for them.
    • In the fourth series, Luca Changretta (who is not only Italian but also American) specifically establishes that his vendetta against the Shelbys will have rules - for example, he promises never to target or threaten the Shelby children. Especially in contrast to the politically-connected Pedophile Priest villain of the third season, a straightforward vengeful gangster like Luca comes across as a comparatively honest Worthy Opponent.
    • The fifth season features a Violent Glaswegian gang called the Billy Boys, but the real thing that makes them so dangerous is that they serve as muscle for the newly-emergent Fascist party, lead by posh English Smug Snake Oswald Mosley. This is where the show's thesis - that the criminal gangs were small potatoes next to the atrocities committed within the systems of law and government - really comes through. The Shelbys also briefly skirmish with an Irish ex-military faction called the Titanic Gang and make deals with the Chinese opium baron Brilliant Chang, who is depicted as not much worse than they are.
  • Barry features a mob war between the Chechen and Bolivian gangs, though they eventually work things out. The second season complicates this peace with the introduction of the Burmese mafia.
  • Tidelands (Netflix): Grigori Stolin is a Serbian drug lord who runs drug rings in Sydney and Melbourne. Rosa calls him in hoping he'll take out Adrielle. However, though he has a ruthless reputation they're soon working together because she's got something he wants.

    Video Games 
  • Common plot in the Grand Theft Auto series since Grand Theft Auto III.
    • In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the Da Nang Boys are a highly aggressive and proactive Vietnamese gang stepping on the Mountain Cloud Boys' toes. Later, The Triad plays this role against The Mafia families in Las Venturas. Although the protagonist is helping the Triads, and they get pictured slightly nicer than the regular Mafia.
    • In Grand Theft Auto IV, you play a ruthless foreign criminal in the form of Niko, though he's more of a freelance hired gun not reluctant to make deals and missions for "traditional" biker gangs and Italian mobsters.
  • The plot of the John Woo game Stranglehold initially sets things up like this, with the Golden Kane allying with a ruthless Russian syndicate against the Dragon Claw syndicate headed by Mr. James Wong. But in a subversion of this trope, as Tequila and the audience find out, Wong is not a Neighborhood Friendly Gangster, and is even worse than the other bosses put together, particularly when he crosses the Moral Event Horizon and has his own daughter murdered by Tequila's partner.
  • The Big Bad of Far Cry 3 is Hoyt Volker, a South African syndicate leader responsible for running a massive drugs-and-slaves ring operating from the Rook Islands. Hoyt, a Bad Boss and no slouch in a Knife Fight himself, hires other unsavory types, like Vaas Montenegro, the deranged Latino pirate, and Bambi "Buck Hughes", a crude and vindictive Australian mercenary who's also a Depraved Homosexual.
  • In Yakuza 2, not only does Kiryu have to fight Sengoku and his band of rival yakuza, he also has to deal with some ruthless Korean gangsters led by Kim Taejin, a.k.a. Terada Yukio, the guy who you placed in charge of your syndicate at the very end of the first game.
    • In Yakuza 1, this role is filled by the Snake Flower Triad.
    • Yakuza: Like a Dragon has a three-way cold war between the local Seiryu Clan, the Yokohama chapter of the Liumang from China, and a shadowy Korean gang known as the Geomijul. Downplayed as the story progresses, as the three factions keep each other in check and otherwise cooperate for the sake of their continued survival.
  • In the original Mercenaries, the player dealt with the Russian Mafia, who, in exchange for some odd jobs, would allow the player access to their black market online storefront, the Merchant of Menace; they were really the only source for ordering weapon kits and airstrikes in the field. In the sequel, the Jamaican Pirates also sell gear, but are much less relevant to the plot or critical to your success. For some reason, both had a version of s skull and crossbones as a faction logo.
  • In Neverwinter Nights 2, a less-than-lawful Player Character can get involved in a mob war between Luskan gangs trying to establish a hold in Neverwinter and the Shadow Thieves of Amn, who have an established operation in Neverwinter.
  • Inverted in Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Although Duelhorn, the invading gang, still forces local clans to work for them and can be rather violent, three of their four leaders are Anti Villains and treat their members nicely. Khamja, the local gang, is far more secretive, dishonest, and ruthless even to their own members.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • Morrowind:
    • Played with in Skyrim - the foreign Alik'r Warriors are distrusted by the natives of Skyrim, but that's more because they're foreign than because they're ruthless, and, in fact, they're part of the resistance against the Aldmeri Dominion intruding into their lands. The only truly evil Alik'r Warrior in the game is Nazir, who defected to the Dark Brotherhood and handles most of your contracts if you join them. There's also a theory that they're Thalmornote  thugs. It depends on whom you choose to believe.
  • In Saints Row 2, thanks to the Player Character taking out the three main gangs in Stilwater, new gangs took their place. One is a Yakuza branch and another is run by Haitian ex-pats who practice Hollywood Voodoo and mutilate people with machetes.

    Visual Novels 
  • Discussed by Moe Mortelli in Daughter for Dessert when describing his early days as a cop. He infiltrated a Russian crime ring hidden inside a chess club.

    Web Comics