DIR: Park Hoonjung | South Korea | 2013 | 134 min. | DCP
Thu, Oct 03 09:10 pm | Vancouver Playhouse
New World opens with a bloodied figure duct-taped to a chair. He is interrogated and disposed of through the classic gangster method of, “sleeping with the fishes”. Filled with many nods to fine gangster films, New World is a sleek if uninspiring attempt at spinning a modern crime tale.
Korea’s largest criminal syndicate masquerades publicly as a legitimate corporation named Goldmoon, whose employees dress in identical black suits with matching Golden pins. When the old head of Goldmoon’s operations is killed, Police Chief Kang (a gruff Choi Min-sik) devises “Operation New World”. His plan is to take control of the entire company by manipulating events to allow its new leader to be secretly under police control. Even in the business of cutthroats, the rules of democracy must be adhered to.
The election for leadership comes down to two men. Lee Joong-gu (Park Sung-woong), a well-trimmed heir apparent who waxes between smug and volatile and has the backing of the strongest contingent within the organization and Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-min), a slap-happy playboy many dislike because of his Chinese heritage. Caught between opposing clans we learn of Chung’s best friend and chief lieutenant, Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae), who has spent nearly a decade undercover for Chief Kang.
The film is about a Ja-sung’s battle over his destiny and soul. Jung-jae plays the rat, a cop playing a gangster. His restrained performance provides a good foil to Jung-min’s energtic Chung. Playing Ja-sung’s proverbial brother, Chung is something of a clown, a wide-eyed, knockoff-buying, sandal-wearing killer who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, as evidenced in a particularly visceral scene in an elevator. He also commands a quartet of “Yanbian hobo” hitman, whose oddly timed appearance plays for comedic purposes.
As a gangster film it doesn’t add anything new to the mix. New World takes cues from better films in the genre, namely The Godfather. Scenes and shots bearing resemblance go beyond homage and distract from the narrative. Comparisons may also be drawn between it and Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs. Both involve informants in criminal organizations and utilize the same steel-blue lens from Michael Mann’s Heat. Unlike Infernal Affairs, it is not a game of cat and mouse. Its twists aren’t as unexpected and earn far less tension.
New World is about doing bad in order to do good. Its gliding cameras, epic wide shots and sharp -focus closueps help for making a good-looking, even darkly amusing, but unoriginal tale.