Park Hoon-Jung/ South Korea/ 2013/ 134 mins
Available on Dual-Format Blu-ray/ DVD now.
An elegant but brutal South Korean gangster drama is concocted from writer/director Park Hoon-Jung. A critically acclaimed and box office success within its home country, it’s perhaps less known to Western audiences. This will no doubt change soon due to the inevitable American remake so with the film released on Blu-Ray/DVD this week, its worth having a look at the impressive original.
A power struggle is instigated between candidates of an organised crime family when the head of the family is killed in suspicious circumstances. On one side we have the merciless, controlled Lee Jeong-gu (Park Seong-ung) who is a clear front-runner for the position and on the other, is the unpredictable, scrappy Jeong Cheong (Hwang Jeon-ming) who seems to follow his own set of rules. As well as those two at odds with each other, there remains an older member of the crime syndicate, Jang Su-Ki (Choi Il-Hwa) who is technically first in line, but is remaining obtuse about the situation.
Following so far? Bear with, as it’s only half the plot. Added into the mix is a grizzled police chief (Oldboy’s Choi Min-Sik) who has been planting moles in the crime syndicate in his attempt to bring the whole operation to an end; the most involved being Lee Jeong-jae (Lee Ja-Seng), Jeong Cheong’s closest ally. This is where the title, New World, originates from as it is the name of the operation to eliminate this crime family from the inside out.
The film rightfully takes it’s time setting up the players. Like a good game of chess, patience is rewarded with a full-on battle of the wills, unexpected twists, and a constant battle for the throne. The film does of course live in the shadow of Infernal Affairs and Scorsese’s remake, The Departed but still manages to find its own voice. Without bringing too much new to the genre, there is a real pleasure of seeing such a grand, operatic gangster melodrama play out on such a skillful level. It is this hark back to the scale of The Godfather trilogy that makes it so appealing. The direction is sharp, tight and has some exceptionally thrilling set-pieces throughout. One sequence of an underground car park knife fight has a seemingly never-ending group of stylishly suited gangsters battling it out – it was reminiscent somewhat of the Agent Smith fight from Matrix Reloaded – with a lot less dodgy Hugo Weaving CGI. The cast are all on great form and it’s always good to see Choi Min-Sik giving Tommy Lee Jones a run for his money in the disgruntlement stakes. The script is unpredictable as motives eventually begin to surface, and the final sequences hints at what could be a continuation to the story. Which would be most welcome.