Director: Park Hoon-jung
Writer: Park Hoon-jung
Cast: Lee Jung-jae, Choi Min-sik, Hwang Jung-min, Song Ji-hyo, Park Sung-woong, Kim Yoon-seong, Na Kwang-hoon, Park Seo-yeon, Choi Il-hwa
Running Time: 134 min.
By Martin Sandison
Filmmaker Park Hoon-jung has a limited filmography, but as the credited screenwriter on the all-time masterpiece I Saw the Devil, he started off his career very strongly.
His 2nd film as director – following 2011’s The Showdown – is New World, an off-the-wall mix of gangster movie, thriller and melodrama. The always magnificent Choi Min Sik leads an ensemble cast that helps the film reach A-list heights, despite a convoluted plot and bland visual style.
A criminal ‘family’ who rule the roost in South Korea go under the name ‘Goldmoon’, and are sent in to disarray when there is a suspected mole in there midst, and a police operation run by Chief Kang (Choi Min Sik, Oldboy) threatens to take them down. New World concentrates on the power struggles between the brothers as they attempt to salvage what is left of their organisation.
While having a long running time, the plotline of New World is very complex and engaging, but never boring. However, this can be to the film’s detriment; at times it is difficult to work out what is going on, and who is after who. I think the film warrants a second watch to work out its plot strands. The approach to characterisation and the actors who carry out those roles are top notch.
Each main character is so multi-layered and well-designed that it’s impossible not to sit enthralled. My favourite character has be Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-min, A Bittersweet Life), whose journey is magnificently drawn from laissez faire humorous trickster to sadistic, but loveable rogue, and back. A silver-tongued devil, much of the laughs come from his dialogue and the spark of Hwang’s performance is electrifying. He also is majorly involved in the only big action scene of the film, superbly choreographed chaos in the Korean style that mess you beg for more. It’s shame that this scene is the only one of its kind in the movie.
Jung’s nemesis in the movie is his ‘brother’, Lee jung-gu (Park Sung-Woo, Shadowless Sword) and the intense rivalry and hatred he has for Jung is palpable. There are some tension-filled scenes between the two that are nailbiting, and Park puts in a smarmy, near-evil performance. Jung jae-Lee (Assassination) as the protagonist Lee ja-sung has the most obvious chararcter arc, and his bromance with Jung is one of the best things about the movie.
The most obvious reference point for New World is the all-time masterpiece Infernal Affairs, with a similarity in some characters and the plotline. While not reaching the giddy heights of that film, New World succeeds in different ways; such as the approach and density of characterisation, and revealing the inner machinations of a criminal organisation. Where it doesn’t succeed, however, is in style. I found the colour palette used and the cinematography to be bland and unappealing, taking me out of the film as a viewer. It’s unfortunate, because there are so many positive aspects.
All in all, I need to watch New World again to fully appreciate it, but on first viewing I was entertained and interested throughout. While I have a strong stomach for violence and torture in movies, the opening scene I thought went too far. Be warned!
Martin Sandison’s Rating: 7/10