In August, 2010 acclaimed South Korean director / screenwriter Kim Ji-woon startled audiences with the hyper-violent revenge thriller “Angmareul boatda” or “I Saw The Devil”, for it’s international release. Featuring two of South Korea’s biggest actors; Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) and Lee Byung-hun (A Bittersweet Life) and a screenplay written by Park Hoon-jung – who’s previous work also includes the screenplay for 2010’s “The Unjust” – the film rapidly made a name for itself on home soil, as well as internationally, in spite of it’s limited theater exposure. New World is Park Hoon-jung’s sophomore directorial effort, featuring Choi Min-sik, Hwang Jung-min (The Unjust) and Lee Jung-jae (The Thieves). Courtesy of the ever dependable Well-Go USA, New World will be released on Blu-ray come July 23rd.
The film starts off like your typical “Gangster Flick”, with the camera panning over a group of sharply dressed men exacting justice by their own code. Soon, we find out why this is happening, and the film moves on to (supposedly) another act of justice being done, and the premise for New World is set. The current chairman of South Korea’s biggest and most influential crime syndicate “Goldmoon” is killed in a traffic incident. Due to the sudden change, no one is entirely certain as to who should take chairman Seok’s place at the head of Goldmoon, which leads to a decision made by the top brass; to call a meeting, and elect one of 4 candidates to the top position. This seemingly unexpected event causes a struggle for power among said candidates within the organization, which leads to acts of betrayal and violence from all parties involved. If all of this isn’t quite messy enough as it is, one of Goldmoon’s higher-ups turns out to be a long time undercover agent, who has managed to remain an asset for the police, as well as a close friend to one of the syndicate’s candidates to the chair. This “mole”, if you will, consistently finds himself pushed and pulled, back and forth between his oath sworn to the law, and his oath sworn to his boss, friends and associates within the Goldmoon syndicate. It certainly sounds like a story we have read in books and watched on film many times before, but New World manages to – if ever so slightly – distance itself from the “been there, done that” experience we so often deal with…
Personally, I really enjoyed this film for exactly what it is. It’s a solid film noir piece with interesting characters, fine cinematography and a subtle, but emotionally driven soundtrack. Choi Min-sik stars as Kang Hung-chul, a downtrodden and jaded Lieutenant, who was recently promoted to section chief. Kang is in charge of the ongoing investigation into the Goldmoon syndicate, and functions as one of the undercover agent’s “handlers”. His performance in New World is surprisingly understated, but well tailored to his character’s bleak and mean-spirited nature. It’s very obvious this man is an honest enforcer of the law, but due to his long history within the South Korean police department, he doesn’t seem to care as much as one would think he should. His counter part on the opposite side of the law, (Lee Jeung-hae’s character Lee Ja-sung) seems to struggle with the same emotions, albeit from an entirely different standpoint. I was pleasantly surprised by his performance as a gangster, especially considering I haven’t seen much of his previous work. He manages to give his character a sense of “humanness” in a world of lies, deceit, betrayal and physical violence. His relatively small and ever so neat posture doesn’t seem very intimidating, yet his screen-presence demands your attention. Truth be told, most of the cast of New World manages to bring their characters to life, and their performances place them firmly within this world of honor, tradition and overwhelming riches.
Seeing as the film isn’t rated by the MPAA, I will take a moment and go into the level of on screen violence featured in New World. Since this film is set in South Korea, only very few firearms are seen, and utilized in the film. The country packs some serious laws against firearms, to the point where even patrol officers don’t carry them. Naturally, they are notoriously hard to come by, which means gangsters generally don’t have access to them, either. That said, this doesn’t take away from the violence in Korean films. If anything, it makes for a much more personal, brutal and bloody affair, given the fact that fights between rival gangs are huge melees in which they utilize bats, knives, hatchets, lead pipes, broomsticks and basically anything else they can stab with, hit with, or throw at their opponents. However, the level of on-screen violence is surprisingly limited in New World, and the violence that is shown isn’t very severe. Yes, people get punched, stabbed, cut and thrown off buildings, but most of the actual deeds and aftermath happen off-screen. If the MPAA were to rate this film, I imagine it would receive an R rating with “bad language” being the main contributing factor.
Well-Go USA is consistently solid in their Blu-ray treatments for Asian films, and in particular Korean films. Thus, the video transfer for New World is no exception. Colors are accurately brought to the screen, and the clarity and detail of the picture is, at times, astonishing. Pores in skin, stitching on clothing, the textures of different kinds of leather, it’s all there. The film features a number of dark scenes and even here, all of the high definition goodness remains solid. Most notable is the reproduction of black levels throughout the film. Black suits are the deep and inky kind of black, as well as hair, furniture and cars. Outside daytime shots are bright, vivid and pack a great sense of depth, while remaining natural to the eye.
New World’s cinematographer is none other than Chung Chung-hoon, the man responsible for the cinematography of some of South Korea’s biggest films. In collaboration with Park Chan-wook, he has been the cinematographic force behind “Oldboy”, “Lady Vengeance”, “I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Ok”, “Thirst” and most recently, Chan-wook’s first international feature; “Stoker”. Needless to say, New World features some truly magnificent camera work, “mood-setting” lighting, and great video editing. Once scene in particular – a fight in an elevator – is reminiscent of the infamous taxi scene in “I Saw The Devil”. Granted, it’s not nearly as violent, but still, in terms of overall style, it’s pretty great. All of this, in combination with the great video transfer, makes for a genuinely natural, and beautiful visual experience.
New World’s Korean DTS HD-MA 5.1 audio track is, in one word; immersive. Dialogue is crisp and clear. Kicks, punches, stabs and blunt object impacts are sufficiently bassy and effective. As I mentioned before, the soundtrack of the film is quiet and subtle, but highly emotional. One composition in particular can be heard during several key scenes throughout the film, and makes for a great contribution to the overall mood of what’s going on on-screen. The track is never overly loud, or overly quiet, as volume is consistent.
As for extras, the disc includes a “Making Of” featurette, a photo gallery and the trailer for the movie. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing.
Being a self-proclaimed “hardcore” fan of Korean cinema, I was very excited to receive and review New World. Watching Choi Min-sik in a less than psychotic role was surprisingly entertaining, and his performance shows exactly why he is considered one of South Korea’s elite contemporary actors. The film’s overall atmosphere is spot on in accordance with what it’s trying to bring across on it’s audience, and as Park Hoon-hung’s sophomore feature, it is most definitely a very solid effort. It’s a familiar story with a somewhat predictable plot, but it’s efficiently executed and an absolute treat for the eyes. If you’re into Korean cinema or the “gangster” genre in general, you will not be disappointed. However, if after reading this review, you still have your doubts, I hope it’ll be available for rental or streaming shortly after it’s Blu-ray release. This film is worth a watch.
Buy New World @ Amazon!