NEW WORLD (2013)
Slick and engrossing thriller evokes intrigue and mystery when the death of a crime boss sparks a cut-throat battle for succession
Sharp-suited, smart-mouthed and knife-wielding, New World provides a stylised addition to the gangster genre, combining the deep undercover cop trope with the crime organisation boss appointment arc.
Rather than thrash through the thrills, we lean more into traditional drama genre pacing, aided by strong performances and a willing script to ensure we are still enthralled by gangsters scrambling to secure power, while police detectives see an opportunity to fragment a crime organisation in transition.
Undercover cop Lee Ja-Sung (Lee Jung-jae – The Housemaid, The Thieves) has infiltrated Goldmoon International, a vast corporate crime syndicate. After several years working his way up, Ja-Sung has been promised a new overseas assignment by police chief Kang (Choi Min-sik – Oldboy, I Saw the Devil). However, Chief Kang is stalling on his promise, threatening to voice Ja-Sung’s true identity if he tries to leave his post.
When the chairman of Goldmoon dies in a car accident, leaders of two fractions of the organisation face-off to take control. One possible leader is Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-min – Ode to My Father, The Wailing), violent and full of effrontery, he is backed by the Chinese-descended Northmoon clan. In opposition to him is Lee Joong-gu (Park Sung-woong – Sunflower, The Deal), no less violent and also equally ambitious, who is backed by the Jaebum faction.
Chief Kang sees this as an opportunity to cause friction in the organisation and possibility push Ja-Sung further up the crime food chain, despite the undercover cop’s desire to focus on his pregnant wife instead.
We then pay witness to these immovable objects meeting these unstoppable forces as the gang members look to rise to the top and the police seeks to rattle the organisation’s operations.
There are plenty of fine performances, but perhaps the standout – after Choi Min-sik’s superbly gruff Chief Kang – is the slick-haired and unhinged Jung Chung, pitched perfectly by Hwang Jung-min. A gangster you feel may explode at any moment. One you would never want to be around as an undercover cop on the brink.
While the film does have jerks of the types of violence you would expect from a Korean gangster film, including a gut wrenching knife fight confined within an elevator, it also turns away from many of its violent scenes letting us join the dots of someone’s demise instead.
This is clearly a film deeply influenced by previous gangster films from across the globe, combining their elements in a patchwork manner, perhaps most notably evoking Hong Kong’s Infernal Affairs and its US remake The Departed.
While you are aware of such, New World shows that providing something is suitably slick and engaging, this will not matter anywhere near as much than it would for a less polished outing.
Something the film does superbly is manage its developments with pitch-perfect pacing, never flabby and always engaging, demonstrating how well Park Hoon-jung – previously screenwriter for I Saw the Devil and The Unjust – has evolved into a director of sizable talent in his own right.