New World Review
The year 2013, another year of movies, another year of South Korea blindsiding me with their excellence.
"New World" is the model for which I want all my gangster films to portray. Right here. A gritty, smart, confident crime thriller, with plenty of twists and turns to keep me interested. Acted out well by a fine cast of actors and actresses. All tied together in a bloody bow of awesome. If you like the sound of that, then "New World" is right up your alley too. The film is very reminiscent of old 1930's, 1940's film noirs, as well as old school gangster films. However, it is painted with a Korean style that's hard to ignore. In this one film, director Park Hoon-jung outdid nearly every American gangster film...nearly.
The film opens with an old Korean crime lord getting into a car accident and dying. This man was the leader of the Goldmoon syndicate, one of the biggest organized crime groups in the Korean underground. Now that he is dead, the spot for leader is broke wide open. The Korean police department sees this as a great opportunity. They initiate "Operation New World," which involves Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae) who is a Goldmoon gangster, but also a cop whose been undercover for eight years. Ja-sung wants out but the new police chief Kang (Choi Min-sik) really needs him, and will stop at nothing to get Ja-sung involved. Reluctantly, Ja-sung agrees, despite having a baby on the way.
Not only does Ja-sung feel pressure from Kang, but also receives pressure from Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-min) a vicious second-in-command who Ja-sung plays right-hand-man to. Jung Chung is a crazy animal trapped in a human being. He features a twisted smile, ruthless tactics and genius intellect. He happens to be one of the many highlights of the film. Hwang Jung-min is a real discovery here, and I am curious to see other films of his. In fact, the entire cast is solid. Lee Jung-jae's Ja-sung will remind many people of Leonardo DiCaprio from "The Departed," however it is a completely different character in Lee's hands. Very splendid work indeed. Choi Min-sik is an actor I have kept up with for awhile now. He was the Korean counterpart to Josh Brolin's character in the upcoming "Oldboy," and he was also in "I Saw The Devil." With these three movies, Min-sik has proven real range. To go from vengeful dad, to psycho killer, to manipulative police chief is absolutely stunning.
Now usually when I talk Korean cinema, I usually talk stylized violence. However, this is actually one of the least violent Korean movies I have seen in awhile, and it still works. "New World" is driven by the drama, rather than bloodshed. The drama is directed with such a sharp eye that you can't help but get sucked into the story. Throughout the entire run-time, my heart was pounding a mile a minute while my eyes were glued to the screen. Don't get me wrong, there are moments of crazy ultra-violence, but it is very low-key and graceful. Most of the violence is over before it really even begins. Anybody who is a fan of the Korean stylized deaths won't be disappointed though, as there are a couple scenes which will surely make you woozy.
I know many people are going to write this off simply due to subtitles. That's a shame. One of the reasons I started this blog is because I like to champion movies I feel need to be seen. No matter what culture they hail from, or what film crew made them and most importantly, no matter what their country of origin is. I do not watch foreign film because I want to be a film snob, or to satisfy some kind of misplaced image. I don't watch them to be hip, cool, or for some other kind of covert agenda. I watch them because I enjoy them. While Hollywood tries to remake the remakes, or reimage the homage, or reboot a series that isn't even ten years old yet, or casts a singer in a lead role just to grab cash, or whatever else they are doing. There is a world around us that is tearing up the industry, tipping genres upside down. I will not say everything from around the world is original, but a lot of the best examples are stories that are relentlessly provocative. My older brother is the type of guy who is willing to try anything he reads on a menu, he is one of the most unique people to go to a restaurant with. While my brother is a fearless eater, I am a fearless moviegoer. No matter what, for better or for worse, every movie matters. Every movie adds to cinematic history and cinematic vocabulary. Because of that, I feel I am willing to give anything a shot.
So if "New World" isn't somewhere on my end of the year list this January, that means the last four and a half months of 2013 are going to be extraordinary. Yep, the bar has been raised pretty friggin' high.
FINAL GRADE: A+