On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: New World (2013)
by NIR SHALEV
There’s Donnie Brasco (1997), the Infernal Affairs trilogy (2002-2003), The Departed (2006)– the superior remake of Infernal Affairs– and Miami Vice (2006). The protagonists of those films are undercover cops or FBI agents who are so deep undercover that if anything were to happen to them (like death), no one would know about it for a long time. There’s no backup, no hidden wires, and it takes lots of guts and brain power to survive.
The latest film to tackle the genre of “undercover cop thriller” is South Korea’s New World, and it’s pretty awesome.
The film has four main characters: Ja-seong (Lee Jeong-jae), a cop who’d infiltrated Goldmoon, the largest gang in Korea almost a decade back, and got pretty high up the ladder; Chief Kang (Min-sik Choi), his boss; Jeong Cheong (Jeong-min Hwang), Ja-seong’s friend, a loose cannon and another gangster who’s high on the pecking order; and Joong-ju (Sung-woong Park), the arrogant heir apparent.
The big boss of Goldmoon dies in a “car accident”. It is decided that within the following few weeks an election would take place and a new boss would be chosen. Cheong and Joong-ju are the two candidates most likely to become the big boss. Just beneath them is Ja-seong, but he believes that, according to Chief Kang, he only has a few weeks left on the job. He does his best to keep his identity and private life a secret from everyone for just a little bit longer, however it’s not too difficult because he was undercover for almost a decade. His hands had spilled more than their fair share of blood and he keeps his composure very well.
The above synopsis makes New World sound almost identical to every other undercover cop film, but this one is different because Kang wants Ja-seong to stay much longer in Goldmoon, rather than be “transferred out”. Kang orchestrates a coup within Goldmoon, utilizing remarkably corrupt gangsters, because he wants Ja-seong to be the big boss. What better way to keep track of and manipulate the largest gang in Korea in his favor than to replace its big boss with a cop? Now here comes another cool little twist: what if Ja-seong decides to remain a gangster instead of a cop?
Another thing the film does very well is periodically introduce other undercover cops into the story. One never really knows who’s a cop, and most other cops don’t know about most other cops. It’s tricky but it’s very well handled.
New World is a fascinating look into the minds of murderers and politicians. Its first half introduces and develops the main players on the chess board and sets into motion what transpires during the film’s second half, that being the actual chess game. There are backstabs galore, much more blood is shed, and no none really knows who to trust anymore. Kang is even thinking of retiring once Ja-seong is in power. It gets rather tricky and evermore fascinating the more the story develops.
The look of the film is glossy yet realistic because of its recognizable characters who are more or less relatable people. They never feel like caricatures. Every performance is natural and often powerful. Jeong-jae is a terrific talent and should be sought out more. His performance here is arguably the best in the film. He is able to convey several emotions at once using every muscle on his face. His eyes, the windows to his soul, provide Ja-seong with terrific depth and pathos. We feel bad for him, knowing that he’s powerless to leave the organization. We want him to succeed even if it means killing people. It’s purposely very ironic.
South Korean cinema strikes gold yet again. Last year Nameless Gangster (2012), also starring Min-sik Choi, had made it into my Top 7 Best Films of 2012 list. New World might make it into this year’s list. Let’s just hope that Hollywood keeps up the trend of chugging out overblown, far too expensive, mediocre films that don’t make their money back. Then maybe they’ll look to other countries and learn a thing or two about what makes their films work.
The special features are a short Making Of and a Photo Gallery.