As tensions become increasingly frayed, the line between ally and enemy becomes blurred

New World (신세계) – ★★★★☆

New World (신세계)

New World (신세계)

Coppola’s 1972 classic The Godfather has long been a source of inspiration for audiences and filmmakers alike. The themes of family, power and corruption, alongside seminal performances from cinematic icons, make it one of the premiere examples of the gangster genre and a masterpiece in its own right. Director Park Hoon-jeong (박훈정) is clearly a huge admirer – he claims to have watched The Godfather over a hundred times – for he explores such topics, in conjunction with his own unique vision developed as screenwriter of The Unjust and I Saw The Devilwithin exemplary gangster film New World (신세계).

Exploring the dynamics of power within a criminal cartel turned conglomerate (or chaebol, as they are known in Korea), the story weaves a twisted and highly engaging web of suspense-filled intrigue. Ironically however, the focus on such power struggles makes the narrative a somewhat impersonal affair. Yet the film features excellent performances by an A-list cast alongside some truly gorgeous cinematography, combining to make New World a powerful and captivating addition to the genre.

Senior gangsters and close friends Jeong Cheong (left) and Ja-seong greet at the airport

Senior gangsters and close friends Jeong Cheong (left) and Ja-seong greet at the airport

When the head of the Goldmoon corporation is killed in highly suspicious circumstances, a power vacuum is left in his wake. Yet the company is not a typical chaebol. It is an amalgamation of several different criminal organisations, brought together to expand their illegal operations under the guise of an enterprise. Among the candidates to become the next ‘kingpin’ of the cartel are stoic Lee Ja-seong (Lee Jeong-jae (이정재) and close friend Jeong Cheong (Hwang Jeong-min (황정민), as well as the aggressive Lee Joong-goo (Park Seong-woong (박성웅). Yet unknown to everyone within the organisation is Ja-seong’s dual role as a police officer, repeatedly putting his life on the line to report to Section Chief Kang (Choi Min-sik (최민식). As people on both sides of the law wage war for power, choices must be made and bloody confrontations forced in order to sit at the head of Goldmoon.

As with prior film The Unjust, director Park once again proves himself a master of balancing multiple characters. Each member of Goldmoon and the police force has an agenda, and director Park does incredibly well in portraying how each of them attempts to achieve their goals. The character development is consistently believable and occurs as a result of the desire for power, making the story an enthralling experience. This is also in no small way due to the performances of the A-list cast. Choi Min-shik in particular is outstanding as Chief Kang, a veteran cop who realises the monster he has become yet cannot quit. The actor conveys a brilliant complexity within the role, authoritative and intelligent yet self-loathing and frustrated. As Chinese descendant Jeong Cheong, Hwang Jeong-min is also superb. Amazingly he turns an extremely deplorable gangster into a likable jerk, with his foul-mouth and extravagance with fake goods masking a dangerously violent criminal. Ironically Lee Jeong-jae is somewhat short-changed as lead character Ja-seong. His role is the most complex as Ja-seong must play both sides of the law and stay alive, yet there are only a handful of moments where the character develops and genuinely feels threatened. Nevertheless, Lee Jeong-jae is very competent in the role.

Chief Kang meets with Jeong Cheong with an offer

Chief Kang meets with Jeong Cheong with an offer

Furthermore, rarely has a gangster film been so attractive. Director Park immediately places the audience within the violent, dark underbelly inhabited by the protagonists utilising great vision and skill. The composition, lighting and cinematography combine to produce some truly gorgeous aesthetics, conveying the Goldmoon hierarchy, the brutal violence, and stunning landscapes with minimal dialogue. The beauty of the dockyards at dawn is wonderfully contrasted with characters forced to swallow cement, and wonderfully captures the bizarre duality inherent in Ja-seong’s life. Such powerful and compelling imagery continue throughout the entire film, from the cold metallic offices in Goldmoon to the shadowy secret liaisons and deals that take place. New World is a genuine visual triumph, and the passion and attention to detail within every shot is palpable.

While director Park does a great job balancing and positioning the protagonists within the film to culminate in a powerful conclusion, the film also suffers from being overly ambitious. As enthralling as the story is, there are simply far too many characters within the narrative and too little time to fully construct them. Song Ji-hyo exemplifies this issue, as the talented actress is given precious few scenes in which to establish her role as a crucial player. However it is again Lee Jeong-jae who suffers the most in this regard, as his personal life – including an interesting sub-plot regarding his pregnant wife – is glossed over in favour of focusing on his status as a mole. The narrative is so concerned with the Goldmoon power play that, crucially, there is little reason provided to care about Ja-seong’s predicament on an emotional level.

Despite such criticism, New World is an incredibly powerful and exemplary gangster film. The exploration of power and corruption within the Goldmoon chaebol as well as the police force is continually fascinating,  even more so when taking into account such issues are a genuine social concern within contemporary Korea. Director Park has crafted an enthralling gangster epic, and fans of the genre will undoubtedly love it.

As tensions become increasingly frayed, the line between ally and enemy becomes blurred

As tensions become increasingly frayed, the line between ally and enemy becomes blurred

Verdict:

New World is a powerful and exemplary gangster film, examining the power play that occurs when the head of a criminal corporation is killed. Director Park Hoon-jeong expertly weaves a tangled web of gangsters and police into a compelling and thrilling story of corruption and betrayal. The film is also bolstered by fantastic performances from A-list stars including Choi Min-shik, Hwang Jeong-min and Lee Jeong-jae, who are continually fascinating to watch. While the focus on positioning characters and the shady deals that are made make the film a somewhat impersonal affair, New World is enthralling gangster epic that fans of the genre will not want to miss.

★★★★☆

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Reviews
JIFF 2013

JIFF 2013: Korea Cinemascape

JIFF 2013

JIFF 2013

As part of the build up towards the 2013 installment of the Jeonju International Film Festival, last time here at Hanguk Yeonghwa the ten selected independent films that form the ‘Korean Films in Competition’ were profiled. What they highlight is that JIFF is still continuing to seek out new and fresh film-making talent as the directors are all relatively unknown, raising the possibility for ‘discovering’ quality productions and act as a potential springboard for future festival runs.

Yet JIFF 2013 is also featuring some of the more commercial films to emerge from Korea under the banner of ‘Korea Cinemascape’. In keeping with the festival tradition the themes are quite broad in scope allowing for a range of diverse projects to appear, from star-studded gangster and action epics through to more low-key dramatic pieces. Here are the films announced as part of the ‘Korea Cinemascape’.

Burn, Release, Explode, The Invincible (연소, 석방, 폭발, 대적할 이가 없는)

Burn, Release, Explode, The Invincible (연소, 석방, 폭발, 대적할 이가 없는)

Burn, Release, Explode, The Invincible (연소, 석방, 폭발, 대적할 이가 없는)

Director: Kim Su-hyun  (김수현)

Synopsis: A title that’s almost a story in itself, Burn, Release, Explode, The Invincible charts the life of actor Kim Sang-hyun and the unfolding drama. Described as ‘bohemian and arty’, the 53 minute drama sounds like an interesting exploration of the acting world.

Fist of Legend (전설의 주먹)

Fists of Legend (전설의 주먹)

Fists of Legend (전설의 주먹)

Director: Kang Woo-seok (강우석)

Synopsis: Blockbuster action film Fists of Legend features several A-list stars including Hwang Jeong-min and Yoo Joon-sang, and helmed by the mighty Kang Woo-seok who has been responsible for a string of hits both as producer and director. Word of mouth is positive on this tent-pole actioner, which sees three middle-aged friends reunited in a fighting contest for a large cash prize. As JIFF is mostly concerned with independent features, Fists of Legend will offer a change of pace for those seeking big-budgeted action. Check out the trailer below:

Garibong (가리봉)

Garibong (가리봉)

Garibong (가리봉)

Director: Park Ki Yong (박기용)

Synopsis: This documentary feature by director Park Ki-yong explores the immigrant experience of workers residing in Garibong-dong. Stories involving foreigners and the difficulties of cultural assimilation have become more prominent in recent years, and Garibong could offer a fresh perspective.

Juvenile Offender (범죄소년)

Juvenile Offender (범죄소년)

Juvenile Offender (범죄소년)

Director: Kang Yi-kwan (강이관)

Synopsis: Juvenile Offender made waves upon its release in 2012, with its story of disaffected youth, crime, and familial relationships. The film from director Kang, who previous helmed the Moon So-ri starring Sakwa (사과), premiered in Vancouver and won the coveted Special Jury Award and Best Actor for Seo Young-ju at the Tokyo International Film Festival. With the focus on human rights (indeed, it was partly funded by The National Human Rights Commission of Korea) and timely examination of socio-cultural issues it’s great to see the film get more exposure at JIFF. See below for the trailer:

Mr. Vertigo (축지법과 비행술)

Mr. Vertigo (축지법과 비행술)

Mr. Vertigo (축지법과 비행술)

Director: Lee Kyung-sub (이경섭)

Synopsis: Renowned character actor Oh Dal-su stars in Mr. Vertigo, a story about a man seeking to add excitement and difference to his boring life. At 25 minutes long, the film has the potential to be one of the more off-beat and humourous short stories at the festival.

My Paparotti (파파로티)

My Paparotti (파파로티)

My Paparotti (파파로티)

Director: Yoon Jong-chan (윤종찬)

Synopsis: Since its release, My Paparotti has been quite successful earning around 1.45 million admissions (at the time of writing), despite mixed critical reactions. Featuring rising star Lee Je-hoon alongside Han Seok-kyu, the comedy-drama charts the relationship between a washed-up music teacher and  young gangster who sports an exceptional singing voice. See the trailer below:

New World (신세계)

New World (신세계)

New World (신세계)

Director: Park Hoon-jung (박훈정)

Synopsis: Gangster epic New World has been incredibly well-received both domestically as well as internationally, selling to multiple territories with its tale of violence and paranoia. Directed by Park Hoon-jung, the writer behind hits I Saw the Devil and The Unjust, the film also features heavyweights Choi Min-shik, Hwang Jeong-min, Lee Jeong-jae and Song Ji-hyo. New World has been likened to Infernal Affairs/The Departed which is high praise indeed. Check out the trailer below:

Project Cheonan Ship (천안함프로젝트)

Project Cheonan Ship (천안함프로젝트)

Project Cheonan Ship (천안함프로젝트)

Director: Baek Seung-woo (백승우)

Synopsis: When he ROKS Cheonan was sunk in 2010, escalating tensions between North and South Korea, several conspiracy theories appeared despite the official verdict that a North Korean submarine fired a torpedo. Documentary Project Cheonan Ship explores the events as well as the reactions by Korean society.

Shibata and Nagao (시바타와 나가오)

Shibata and Nagao (시바타와 나가오)

Shibata and Nagao (시바타와 나가오)

Director: Yang Ik-june (양익준)

Synopsis: The 19 minute Korea/Japanese co-produced drama explores the final moments of a couple as they are about to separate. Director Yang Ik-june is the reason to be excited for this film as his exemplary drama Breathless proved his abilities behind the camera.

Talking Architecture, City:Hall (말하는 건축, 시티:홀)

Talking Architecture, City:Hall (말하는 건축, 시티:홀)

Talking Architecture, City:Hall (말하는 건축, 시티:홀)

Director: Jeong Jae-eun (정재은)

Synopsis: The controversial City Hall project in Seoul has been fraught with difficulty since day one, and this documentary shines a light on the issues that occurred throughout construction. It looks to be an interesting piece, especially in the conflict of old (Japanese) versus new (Korean).

Timing (타이밍)

Timing (타이밍)

Timing (타이밍)

Director: Kim Ji-Yeon (김지연)

Synopsis: Timing looks set to be a sensitive drama, as a woman attempts to resolve loose ends before she moves abroad to study. In doing so she discovers the complex emotions of the sadness of letting go of the past and the fear of starting afresh.

To Be Reborn (환생의 주일)

To Be Reborn (환생의 주일)

To Be Reborn (환생의 주일)

Director: Hwang Qu-doek (황규덕)

Synopsis: To Be Reborn is a documentary that follows the director himself, as he pursues another avenue in life when frustrated with the film industry. The film-making frustrations depicted could resonate well with the independent audiences and prove to be a success.

Total Messed Family (오빠가 돌아왔다)

Total Messed Family (오빠가 돌아왔다)

Total Messed Family (오빠가 돌아왔다)

Director: No Zin-soo (노진수)

Synopsis: The oddly titled Total Messed Family appears to be a more traditional family comedy-drama offering in which a group of mismatched personalities are forced to come together during a crisis. This certainly has the potential to be one of the ‘feel-good’ films at the festival.

The Woman (그 여자)

The Woman (그 여자)

The Woman (그 여자)

Director: Jo Mee-hye (조미혜)

Synopsis: The only film to feature the transsexual experience in the category, The Woman portrays the story of Yoon-hee whose life is thrown into turmoil when her brother informs her of their mother’s illness. It will be very interesting to see how such issues are explored, as Korean culture is still quite conservative.

Festival News Jeonju International Film Festival (제14회 전주국제영화제) Korean Festivals 2013