New World


Jul 25, 2013

New World (2013)
Director: Park Hoon-jung
Writers: Park Hoon-jung
Starring: Lee Jung-jae, Choi Min-sik, Hwang Jung-min, and Park Sung-woong

The Plot: New World is a South Korean gangster film that details a very tumultuous time in the history of Goldmoon, a legendary organized crime group. Similar to the yakuza in Japan, these gangsters are somewhere between legitimate enterprise and vicious crime outfit. When the head of this group is killed by way of a car accident, a war between factions seems like it may be on the rise. On one side there is the business-minded, but quite psychotic, Joong-gu (played by Park Sung-woong), and on the other there is Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-min) – a young man who enjoys only the finest things in life and isn’t afraid to be shallow. Stuck in between these two is Jung Chung’s right-hand-man, Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae). Ja-sung is actually an undercover police officer, and after years of working within Goldmoon he is being set up to be second in command of the entire enterprise. However, Ja-sung no longer wants this life. With a child on the way, he hopes to finally leave this awful business behind him. Unfortunately, his commanding officer, Chief Kang (Choi Min-sik), refuses to allow it. He wants Ja-sung to continue until he is at the very top of the ladder. This is why he instigates a new operation, codenamed New World. Chief Kang believes that, by making the right moves, he can manipulate the organized crime business in Korea and have them obey his will. However, in this rugged and violent world, nothing falls together without blood being spilled.

The Review
New World is a movie that sets its tone perfectly within the opening minutes of the film. Beginning with a shot of a gloomy warehouse, we are introduced to a man who has been physically beaten so bad that he now looks disfigured. Those who have captured him accuse him of being a rat, and they continue to hound him as he begs for his life. As the man pleads with them, we see that it falls upon deaf ears. Ultimately, they forcefeed him cement, and in the next sequence we see a barrel filled with this cement being rolled out of the warehouse. This is our welcome to New World, a dark and foreboding land where bad things happen and they tend to happen frequently. Instantly, New World shows itself to be something very kin to Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage series, or various other Asian crime films that operate in a similar sterilized and methodical manner (e.g. Johnnie To’s Drug War and Election series). New World shows us a criminal lifestyle where the characters aren’t shocked by the actions of their fellow criminal partners, but instead they simply expect the very worst of those who surround them. This isn’t Goodfellas, where our protagonist is a manic gangster who is mortal enough to be roped into drug addiction and paranoia. New World is a detached crime film that avoids sentimentality and instead focuses on characters who are narcissistic and sociopathic, and it does it with a delightful focus on violence and intensity.

Choi Min Sik is likely to be a major selling point for many potential viewers. The Old Boy actor plays Lieutenant Kang, a character who is very much alive and in stark contrast to the gangster element that surrounds him. When he is first introduced in the film, it comes after watching several scenes of the Goldmoon group bullying everyone around them. The upper-tier gangsters apparently beat up and intimidate those who are beneath them whenever they seem to have a problem. They act on impulses and could care less about anyone else. For this brief period, these chumps seem like they are in complete control. However, when Lieutenant Kang steps out from behind his police van, defiantly running a surveillance operation while the gang boss is being buried, we see someone with the testicular fortitude to stand up to these criminals. For a brief moment, he becomes a clear “hero” in this world of villains. Yet, despite Kang’s bravado, he is not a purely wholesome character. As with the rest of the cast, if they are not completely evil, then they are defiantly grey. Lieutenant Kang is a character that stands out for his machismo, but as the film develops, we find that he is as dedicated to his own brand of justice as the criminals are to breaking the law.

Featuring an intricately woven plot that dances about the screen, New World is the type of film that defies boredom. Although it is still likely that some will try and hurl the “boring” adjective towards the movie, for its part, there always seems to be some form of action happening throughout the movie. Whether it be gangster violence or intense debates, one can see how the film tries its best to hook the audience with every new scene. It builds layer upon layer of intensity, relying less upon genre tropes (though it still follows many) and more upon the involvement that we have with these characters. This focus on characterization seems at odds with the very meticulous and procedural manner of the film, but New World gives us a glimpse into a very realistic and very scary world. The audience relates closely to few characters, but the harsh and truthful environment is so earnest that it becomes easy to set yourself in this cinematic landscape.

New World, aside from being a visceral detour into the world of South Korean organized crime, stands out as an examination of the class system within this criminal lifestyle – and perhaps even in society in general. Throughout the film, we see the higher ups abuse younger members of this criminal organization, and ultimately the lower class take their abuse out on whoever is underneath them. It is a frustrating thing for the audience to endure, assuming you have a shred of humanity and do not appreciate seeing innocent people being verbally abused, but it is a big part of this top-down culture. Featuring countless head-slaps and scenes of characters being verbally berated, the movie makes a point to present the bully-mentality that exists both within the criminal element and within the police system that is in place not to shut down these criminal enterprises, but ensure that they do not become more powerful than the police. There becomes a clear hierarchy within the movie, and the film pivots upon the question of whether or not this hierarchy can be usurped.

The Conclusion
Featuring several scenes of outrageous violence, dark glances into the enterprise of crime, and tons of very classy clothing, New World is a movie targeted towards genre fans. If you enjoy Johnnie To’s procedural crime films, or you’re perhaps looking for a Michael Mann-esque crime feature set within the bustling world of South Korea, you can’t go wrong with this. A relentless thriller and engaging crime saga, New World should not be missed.

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