New World (2013) Blu Ray & DVD (Eureka!) dir: Hoon-jung Park
This crime drama revolves around a criminal organisation named Goldmoon, whose chairman named Seok suddenly perishes in a car accident. There are three potential successors to his reign: Jung Chung (Jung-min Hwang) from their Chinese division, Lee Jong-gu (Sung-woong Park) and Jang Su-ki (Il-hwa Choi). However, with Jang in semi-retirement, the real competition is between the two younger hotheads Jung and Lee.
Police chief Kang (Min-sik Choi) has a number of men inside the organisation, the most important being Lee Ja-sung (Jung-jae Lee) who poses as Jung’s friend and right-hand man. However, the latter is reluctant to remain undercover - particularly considering that his wife is pregnant and the brutal manner in which the sadistic Jung tends to deal with snitches. However, Kang manages to persuade him to stay.
Things become more dangerous when the scheming Kang shakes Jung down before he boards a flight to China in order to pressure him into giving incriminating evidence to him about others in the organisation. After Kang lets him go, he becomes suspicious of the fact that the police were waiting for him right before he was due to fly. As a result, he orders one of his subordinates to pry into their database and extract any information on who could have infiltrated their group. Naturally, Lee Ja-sung could be on the suspects list…
Watch a trailer:
A Korean Infernal Affairs?
New World from South Korean writer/director Hoon-jung Park (who also wrote the original screenplay for the notoriously violent I Saw the Devil) greatly resembles the Hong Kong hit Infernal Affairs (2002) which was also reworked as Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006). Okay, so it does have some differences - but I’d still bet my bottom won that Park has, at very least, seen the aforementioned film.
It’s also fair to say that it isn’t as action-packed or wildly stylised an affair as I Saw the Devil or some of that films’s director Jee-woon Kim’s other classics (such as A Bittersweet Life, The Good the Bad the Weird or The Age of Shadows). As director, Hoon-jung Park adopts a less flashy style and slightly drab colour palette, albeit with some imaginatively-framed shots on occasion. Hence, Korean cinema buffs who come in expecting something similar to those films may be slightly disappointed. However, neither this nor the Infernal Affairs resemblance prevent it from being a topflight police/gangster saga in its own right.
While the film contains its fair share of action and violence, most of it comes during the second half of its lengthy runtime. Up until then, the emphasis is placed squarely on the actors, characters and storytelling. The acting is solid across the board and the characters, no matter how reprehensible their behaviour, come across as believable human beings. The finest performance here comes from Jung-min Hwang, who clearly relishes his role as a boisterous but clearly psychotic man who veers from playfulness laddishness to shocking brutality depending on the situation. Min-sik Choi, who is probably the most familiar face here (from his roles in Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, I Saw the Devil and the Luc Besson film Lucy), comes a close second as the hard-nosed cop driven to get all the dirt he can on the organisation. He has some fantastic scenes where gets to verbally put the various cocky gangster types in his place. As the film goes on, however, it becomes clear that he is just as ruthless and callous as to the fates of others as those on the “wrong” side of the law are here.
As I’ve mentioned, Hoon-jung Park avoids the usual Korean cinema predilection for flash. He keeps the camera fairly static during most sequences, preferring to capture the overall mise en scène via composition. Seok’s funeral is marked by wide-angle long shots emphasising its exuberant nature (paid for, naturally, via illegal proceeds). When Lee Ja-sung sits in the back of a limousine when he is on the cusp of (potentially) having his cover blown we see his face reflected in the glass of the passenger window, a metaphor for his duel life as both a criminal and a police officer.
The result of all of this careful and meticulous build-up means that the inevitable crescendo of bloodshed, when it arrives, is truly shocking. While some of the most brutal moments are kept off-camera there are still a several gallons of the red stuff drenching the screen here. There’s also a memorable gang confrontation in an indoor parking lot, culminating in a frenzied knife fight in an elevator (which, of course, gets heavily blood-splattered). The violence is, however, accompanied by numerous twists and turns as Kang’s various machinations come into play. It never feels mindless or gratuitous.
New World is a sprawling gangster epic with as much attention to fine detail as their is to portraying the inevitable violent acts. It is unlikely to disappoint fans of the genre even if it doesn’t bring anything radically new to the table.
Runtime: 134 mins
Dir: Hoon-jung Park
Script: Hoon-jung Park
Starring: Jung-jae Lee, Min-sik Choi, Jung-min Hwang, Sung-woong Park, Ji-hyo Song, Yoon-Seong Kim, Il-hwa Choi, Byeong-ok Kim
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The film’s muted colour palette doesn’t fully show off the format but it still looks very crisp and clear. Sound-wise there’s nothing to complain about either.
A trailer and that’s about it.
New World is yet another justification for the increased attention that the South Korean film industry has garnered in recent years. However, while it is another fine choice for the Eureka! label’s release schedule it’s a shame that no extras have been included.