Directed by: Hoon-jung Park
Starring: Min-sik Choi, Jeong-min Hwang, Gwang Jang
Jury Prizewinner at the 2013 Beaune Thriller Festival, writer/director Park Hoonjung’s second directorial effort is an unapologetic slice of entertainment that took the South Korean box office by storm when it was released in the spring.
Drawing on themes well worn in gangster films across history, New World is a labyrinthine story of crime and man’s thirst for power. The sprawling narrative focuses on police mole Lee, who’s spent a lengthy period undercover in the Goldmoon Crime Syndicate, his police handler Kang and his friend and rival Jeong. The themes may be familiar, but director Hoonjung presents them in his own unique way. The twisting narrative of double and triple crosses is hard to keep on top of, but that’s the point; the writer/director highlighting the constant uncertainty that goes hand-in-hand when you pick such a dangerous life.
Like all great gangster films, the key to its success is in the characters that carry the complex narrative forward. Hoonjung cleverly blurs the lines between protagonists and antagonists to create a brooding atmosphere of uncertainty. Lee and Kang may be trustworthy by design, but their motives suggest them to be far shadier than the authoritative positions they represent. In contrast, mob leader Jeong is almost likeable; his violent tendencies make him equally as untrustworthy, but his undying loyalty to Lee suggests he may ironically be the most morally driven on the 3.
In keeping with the traditions of modern Korean cinema, New World is a brutal film and Hoonjung has a gloriously ferocious eye for violence. The vivid punishments that include the torture of one poor individual who is forced to swallow wet cement shock with their visceral nature. While the film’s standout scene, a melee involving dozens of knife wielding gangsters doing battle in a sparse car park and then a cramped lift is joyfully over the top.
Tense, exciting and at times wildly entertaining, it’s clear to see why New World has been such a hit in its native country. Its ability to originally weave a fairly generic story creates an unshakable amount of tension. It may lack the gravitas of classics such as Oldboy & Infernal Affairs, but with its involving characters and tongue firmly in its cheek, New World is a hell of a ride.