New World: Film Review
South Korean writer-director Park Hoon-jung’s second feature, centering on scheming gangland infighting, was a hit in domestic release.
Gut-churning serial-killer thriller I Saw the Devil scripter Park Hoon-jung continues in writer-director mode with New World, although with its depiction of scheming gangland infighting his script this time around is far more sedate by comparison. After a number-one debut in South Korea last month the pic may initially prevail among foreign-language titles based on its genre familiarity before moving on to better opportunities in ancillary.
The death of the Goldmoon crime syndicate’s leader in a suspicious car crash sets off frantic rivalry to replace him as chairman of the counter-intuitively corporate organization. Top contenders for the spot are quick-tempered, loud-mouthed Jung (Hwang Jung-min, The Unjust), who runs the organization’s money laundering operations through a Shanghai construction company, and sadistic Seoul enforcer Lee (Park Sung-woong), responsible for keeping the gang’s disparate factions in line.
Jung’s number two Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae, The Thieves) keeps a careful eye on the escalating rivalry, not the least because he’s actually an undercover cop who’s been collecting incriminating evidence on the mobsters from the inside for the past eight years and conveying it to Kang (Choi Min-sik, I Saw the Devil, Oldboy), his section chief. With Goldmoon temporarily leaderless, Kang’s plan is to disrupt the chain of succession by persuading one of the major players to cooperate with the government’s ongoing corruption investigation in return for control of Goldmoon’s operations.
Ja-sung fears he may be exposed when Kang extends his mission and leans on him to identify the most susceptible potential successor, as the gang cleans house to eliminate any traitors prior to the upcoming power transition and pressure increases for Ja-sung to prove his loyalty.
Behaving more like corporate career criminals favoring sharp suits and luxury cars rather than ruthless gangsters bent on underworld dominance, Ja-sung and the leaders of the competing factions spend more time talking about their violent tendencies than acting them out. Most of the victims of the internal warfare, which doesn’t begin intensifying until after the first hour of screen time, are either gangmembers or undercover cops with insufficient backstory to merit much sympathy.
Park’s unobtrusive directorial style neglects to add much dramatic emphasis either, although cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon’s sleek visuals consistently exhibit an unsettling, inanimate menace. Character development isn’t one of the strong points of the meandering script, which is more convoluted than clever in concept. Principal performances are all solid without any real standouts and even Choi can’t seem to muster much of his frequently threatening charisma.
Lacking the intense intrigue of touchstones like Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Infernal Affairs or Johnnie To’s Election, Park’s New World is a by-now familiar variation on the crime drama that’s absorbing enough when considered in isolation, but overall doesn’t deliver a distinctly fresh vision.
Opens: Mar. 22 (Well Go)
Production company: Sanai Pictures
Cast: Lee Jung-jae, Choi Min-sik, Hwang Jung-min, Park Sung-woong, Song Ji-hyo
Director-writer: Park Hoon-jung
Producers: Park Min-jung, Kim Hyun-woo
Executive producer: Kim Woo-taek
Director of photography: ChungChung-hoon
Production designer: ChoHwa-sung
Costume designer: Cho Sang-Kyoung
Editor: Moon Sae-kyoung
No rating, 134 minutes