Director – Park Hoon-jung – 2013 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 135m
Following a gangster boss’ murder, an undercover cop is caught in the middle of the rival factions’ battle to take over the gang – screening Monday, October 24th, 19.00 at The Cinema Museum as part of a strand of films celebrating actor Lee Jung-jae (Squid Game) at London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) which runs in cinemas from Wednesday, October 19th to Sunday, October 30th; the film is also available on Eureka! Video
Lee Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae) is the number two for Shanghai-based gangster Jung Chung (Hwang Jun-min) when someone in the organisation has a lorry drive into the car of their boss Seok (Lee Kyung-young) as he’s returning from a visit to his mistress in the rain, killing him and opening the way for someone else to take over.
When at the hospital Seok is pronounced dead to the assembled gangsters by a surgeon, he’s assaulted by one of Jung Chung’s rival candidates for the succession, Lee Joong-gu (Park Sung-woong). He makes a habit of such actions, tossing away the camera of a carload of journalists “disrespecting” Seok’s funeral only to learn that they are actually cops working for Section Chief Kang (Choi Min-sik), who has been recently promoted from Lieutenant.
At police headquarters, top brass explain their plan (i.e. the plot) that Jung Chung is the likely candidate to take over Goldman (the organisation’s legitimate corporate front), although Lee Joong-gu may try to take the position while the official candidate Jang Su-ki is probably a non-starter. It’s felt the police may be able to influence the succession if they act now.
Ja-sung is unhappy about this. An undercover cop who has posed as a gangster for ten years and worked his way up the organisation, he’d been promised he could get out once Seok was gone, but his handler (Song Ji-hyo) has now been given new instructions. Ja-sung visits Kang in an abandoned warehouse to register his protest, only to be told the police have no intention of throwing their main asset (i.e. him) away. Thus, the stage is set for what follows.
Taking its cue from A Better Tomorrow (John Woo, 1986), a major influence on Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1992), its gangsters wear smart suits and ties, and white shirts. Elsewhere, a superficial, glossy production value is all over the portrayal of the gangsters – sleek black and silver cars, high-tech corporate architecture, and fine cuisine in a hotel scene where Joong-gu and his men enjoy a breakfast which includes the finest veal.
In marked contrast to the gloss are some impressive fight and action scenes: the unexpected lorry ploughing into the boss’ car, group fights in underground car parks, a one man against many knife fight in a lift. A particularly compelling sequence has Ja-sung’s handler, her cover blown, defend herself against the four Yanbian thugs sent to her home to kill her unaware she has a gun.
Also effective are scenes in which the gangsters put people they believe have crossed them into oil barrels, later to be filled with cement and dumped into the sea. These don’t dwell on the violence, showing rather the live victims in their barrels and the subsequent rolling of barrels off a ship’s deck. It’s a pretty unpleasant idea which works as more on suggestion of the unpleasant rather than actually showing much of that to the audience.
The undercover element is a riff on the more effective Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau, Alan Mak, 2002), the Hong Kong gangster movie in which the cops have a mole in the triads and the triads have a mole in the cops, the source for The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006).
New World boasts a strong cast. Lee Jung-jae trades effectively on his good looks as a fine leading man, Choi is a suitably grizzled boss while Hwang balances loutish behaviour with charisma. Further down the cast list, Song Ji-hyo as Lee’s handler proves a rare female holding her own in an undeniably male world. If ultimately slick and soulless, it’s lavishly shot, stylish and rattles along at a good place. Enjoyable genre fare which is not quite as groundbreaking as it thinks it is.
New World plays Monday, October 24th, 19.00 at The Cinema Museum as part of a strand of films celebrating actor Lee Jung-jae (Squid Game) at London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) which runs in cinemas from Wednesday, October 19th to Sunday, October 30th; the film is also available on Eureka! Video.