“New World” is a delicate movie. In it we can see connections to “The Godfather” and “Donnie Brasco” but we can also see why Asian cinematography is one of the best in the world today. If you ever wondered how the Asian Corleone would look like, “New World” would be closest to it.
Goldmoon is one of the largest crime syndicates in Korea. When its chairman is killed in a car accident, there is a struggle to fill his vacant seat. Two likeable candidates are the executive director Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-min) and the managing director Lee Joong-gu (Park Sung-woong). Chung’s right hand Lee Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae) is actually an undercover cop under the control of Chief Kang (Choi Min-sik). Kang is an ambivalent handler whose goals are justifying his ambiguous means, but sometimes he is more gangster than those he’s trying to catch. One thing is clear, though. After the chairman died, nothing will be the same. “New World” is coming, and everybody included in the story will have to decide their positions and stakes in it.
I was easily pulled into “New World”, it starts with a torture scene of a rat, and with every crime organization one rule is above all, rats aren’t tolerated. Lee Ja-Sung will find himself between his loyalty to the law and to his friend, and he will be pulled into power struggle in more ways than one. Nothing is simple in this gamble. Camera is suggestive, and we can presume what will happen but with Korean storytellers and directors more interesting question is how instead of what. I would go so far and tell that there’s no better builders of tension in cinematography today than Asian directors. “New World” took familiar premise and turned it into wonderful gangster epic in which I was involved passionately from first to the last frame. It was interesting to see great acting performances of Hwang Jung-min and Lee Jung-jae. I enjoyed their chemistry so much that I would like to see prequel of the movie centered on their coming to positions of power. Old world was brutal, new one will be even more so.
Action scenes were excellent, camera made me into an active participant and I was particularly impressed with an elevator scene in which all elements of good action-directing were met. As in most Korean movies today there was exaggerating a little, from time to time movie slipped into caricature but moments for that were carefully chosen. They relieved drama and tension and managed to pull me even more into caring for the characters.
One of the first scenes in the movie was funeral. During the funeral Lee Joong-gu finds out that cops are taking pictures and he comes out and smashes their cameras. I’m telling you this scene because I want to make comparison to similar scene in the beginning of “Godfather” in which Sonny does exactly the same (it’s wedding instead of funeral there). That slight difference is interesting, because in “New World” difference between wedding and funeral is exactly the difference in tone of these two movies. “New World” is made in 21 century, its violence is more graphic and its characters are even more torn apart. Bright tones are rare to non-existent in the “New world”. I would say that there’s no place for weddings, funerals are the only perspective. In the end of the movie winner of the power struggle sits in a chair opposite to big window and smokes. Camera is pulled into the air, he is in the center of the frame an then he turns the chair to face the window. Windows are big, light is coming in and he smokes. In interesting opposition to the beginning message is clear. “New World” will indeed be different. Brighter, shiner, more clear. Light is coming in, but its nature is changed. All dilemmas are solved, except one. Last scene answers even that question. All pieces are on their rightful places. New world awaits. In it, there is only one path ahead.
There is one more actor who I would like to mention in the separate paragraph and honor his great performance that way. Choi Min-sik as Chief Kang was truly remarkable. His poker-face and games within games reminded me on Alec Guiness in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” – British series from 1979. He was brilliant, he looked totally consumed by his case. Nothing outside the case was even remotely important to him. Cast was great and methodical direction by Hoon-jung Park just underlined another powerful aspect of the story – storytelling. I really don’t have any objections to the movie. It swooped me of my feet. After his previous masterpiece “I Saw The Devil” and this one, Hoon-jung Park is one of directors I admire the most.
If you’re interested you can see “New World” on Netflix US and Netflix CA, I would recommend it as a MUST. It’s the best gangster epic in the last few years.