New World (Sinsegye)
Korea (2013) Dir. Park Hoon-jung
The biggest crime syndicate in South Korea, Goldmoon, finds themselves at a crossroads when their leader Seok Dong-cheol (Lee Gyeong-yeong) is arrested killed in a car accident. The list of nominees for Seok’s replacement boils down to two men: Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-Min) and Lee Joong-Goo (Park Sung-Woong), who hate each other.
Meanwhile Jung Chung is unaware that his number two, Lee Ja-Sung (Lee Jung-Jae) is in fact an undercover policeman and his boss Kang Hyung-Chul (Choi Min-Sik) wants to put into operation their master plan named “New World”. But with a pregnant wife and concerns about his future, Ja-Sung is torn between his duty and his loyalties to Jung Chung.
It would be too easy to suggest that New World was a Korean version of Infernal Affairs from China, as well as being lazy and erroneous. While the theme of police moles in criminal gangs is a common one in Asian cinema, Park Hoon-Jung’s second directorial offering is sturdy enough to stand on its merits and negate any idle comparisons.
For the most part this is a character driven affair with snippets of action and blood soaked violence used to punctuate a particular thread or arc. Park scripted 2010’s unbridled claret soaked shocker I Saw The Devil so you know that the onscreen brutality will be exceptionally gruesome.
The death of original Goldmoon leader Seok is left open to speculation as to who the culprit was although the most obvious choice might be the correct one. With the group leaderless this gives Kang a chance to run his “New World” operation, the objective being that his mole, in this case Ja-Sung, rises to the top position so that the group is effectively under police control. Unfortunately Kang tries to play his hand a little too early when he detains Jung Chung at an airport en route to China and offers him a deal which is duly rebuffed.
Jung Chung then orders his lawyer to investigate Kang, giving him some much welcome intel to use to his advantage against Kang and to strengthen his cast for the gang leadership. One vital piece of information that Jung Chung has in his possession pertains to Shin-Woo (Song Ji-Hyo), Ja-Sung’s go between, marking the first step in exposing Kang’s plans.
From hereon in things get complex as it seems that no-one can be trusted to the point that the viewer is as unsure as the cast. The script is highly deceptive in that everything appears to be spelled out at the beginning but once we are involved in the machinations of our largely venal cast, Park throws in some neat twists ensure we are rooted to the screen right up until the end credits start rolling.
After his directorial debut film The Showdown went largely overlooked, Park had a lot to prove with New World and it’s fair to say that his next work should be more keenly welcomed following this film, a huge hit in his native South Korea. It’s a mixture of character study, violence and dense story telling and Park has managed to bring all three elements together rather well.
The world of the gangster is given a glossy make over in Parks hands, with everyone in the crime syndicate all suited and booted while it is Kang and the police who are the scruffbags. Park also manages to inject some light humour into the proceedings with the arrival of a group of Chinese thugs, brought in by Jung Chung to take care of some business, and find themselves biting off more than they could chew during their relatively simple mission.
As mentioned before Park has a propensity for gory violence and shares that with us again here. Unlike the aforementioned I Saw The Devil (which also starred Choi Min-Sik) much of the truly grisly action is kept off camera but there is enough unpleasantness to appease the bloodthirsty watching.
Most of it is kept largely credible although one scene, in which Jung Chung somehow manages to survive a multiman attack and prevail when trapped in a small lift with six blade wielding attackers, stretches that credibility juts a bit. Park also shows a flair for creating tension and disarming the viewer with some subliminal misdirection. I’ll say no more except it involves a car in an underground car park.
Park solidifies this film’s success with the choice casting for the three main roles. As Ja-Sung Lee Jung-Jae is the most human of the three leads, understandably as he has the most to lose. Lee Jung-Jae has long been a solid hand but here he equips himself very well in his subtle essaying of a man having to keep up a number of pretences before different people under all circumstances.
Hwang Jung-Min is another journeyman actor of some repute who is given the chance to step up to fill a dominant role as Jung Chung. Initially Hwang plays him as a too cocky, almost caricature like gangster but as the film progresses he clams down to reveal himself to be a very calculating if psychotic gang boss.
Veteran Choi Min-Shik brings the gravitas as Kang, a gnarly, world weary cop who likes to think he play the game by his own rules. He is the hardest character to read of the three, giving away very little as to what his true motives are and where his loyalties lie. While Korea has a number of suitable candidates for such a role, it doesn’t take long to recognise that the choice of Choi was unquestionably the right one.
Two and a quarter hours may seem like a long time to invest in a film of this nature but Park makes sure that not a minute of New World is wasted. An intelligent and well crafted gangster thriller that is both brutal and engaging, this is Korean cinema just as we like it.