NEW WORLD (2013)
Directed by Hoon-jung Park
A police chief sets his sights on manipulating the outcome of the next-in-line to a criminal empire but could his meddling put at risk the lives of the cops working undercover in the organisation?
Super-tense South Korean mafia movie NEW WORLD is a thrilling exploration of the inner-workings of a high profile mob outfit and the mechanics of a selection of a new leader, especially when outside forces are keen to manipulate the outcome.
Opening with a dispatch of a traitor, NEW WORLD starts as it means to go on and throws you right into the middle of a cunning plot to ascend to the throne of mob-run Goldmoon, a powerful conglomerate with a far-reaching grip in South Korea. With the leader receiving unwanted attention from the press and courts, it’s inevitable that someone was going to take him out and boy do they do it with such subtle style. What follows is a strategic game of chess as we see joker Jung Chung, with his fake gold watches and ripoff designer sunglasses, battle against the cold, calculated Lee Joong-gu, to take control of Goldmoon. However, Chung has his work cut out being of Chinese nationality. Despite his years of service heading up one of the clans within Goldmoon, other members are looking to secure a South Korean national as their new leader. Fortunately for him, stubborn police Chief Kang is well acquainted with Lee Joong-gu to know how to get his preferred choice to the top of the company.
Caught in the middle of the sudden power struggle is Lee Ja-sung, Jung Chung’s right-hand man and leader of his own clan within Goldmoon. As loyalty goes, he’s firmly behind his man Jung Chung but he harbours a secret that, should anyone discover, would surely spell the death of him: he’s an undercover cop. With the leader of Goldmoon assassinated, his role as an undercover agent within the mafia has run its course but Kang has other ideas. Despite his protests, Lee Ja-sung has no other option but to go along with Kang’s plan but with the battle for leadership intensifying, Ja-sung comes ever closer to having his cover blown and must do whatever it takes to survive.
Nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat drama spills out across the screen as Chief Kang (Oldboy’s Min-sik Choi) sets his plan into motion and Lee Ja-sung (Jung-jae Lee) is forced to play out his existing role within the mafia by the seat of his pants. Trying to do the bidding of Goldmoon whilst not exposing your true identity is no mean feat and Lee Ja-sung has no option but to play the game cautiously. Fortunately for him, the immediate attention is between Jung Chung (Jung-min Hwang) and Lee Jung-gu (Sung-woong Park) who are battling it out to become number one, with a side-helping of interference from Kang. This explosive clash between personalities in a bid for power sets up an incredible fight scene later on in the movie with loyal gang members brandishing bats and knives to do the handiwork of their bosses. This isn’t the only instance of violence within the movie even if the first half of the movie seems quite tame for a mafia film. Chung’s employment of the curious Yanbian Hobos proves to be quite the experience even if it does come with a comedic flavour. However, just like other jovial characters in the film, they can prove more deadlier and ruthless than the blatantly cold-hearted ones.
I don’t know what it is about mafia movies but the Asian mobster flicks always seem to impress more than the American ones. America is all about theatrics where Asian mob films have a real subtle menace to them which really amps up the tension to anxiety-driven level. American mobsters always appear to promote their attitude and ego at every opportunity and work more under the cover of darkness. These guys in NEW WORLD are completely the opposite. Out in the open, the bosses are followed by their loyal lapdogs everywhere they go. One brilliant example of this is when the leader is fatally injured at the beginning of the film and the main sub-clan bosses within Goldmoon attend the hospital to check on his health. There must be a room of 50 people with each boss having his own entourage surrounding him. The men are always impeccably dressed too, suited and smart, with a Goldmoon badge pinned to their lapel. Whilst nothing screams ‘violent criminals’ about them from their appearance, their presence is more than intimidating from their complete silence and utter devotion to their boss. Those who say less and don’t make a song and dance about everything they do are much more threatening than the gobby, loud-mouth mobsters we’re used to seeing from Hollywood’s efforts.
Whilst this movie is as much about the clash of the two in line to the Goldmoon throne, Lee Ja-sung’s story is ever evident, there in the background, waiting to be exposed. As I was captivated by the power struggle within the organisation, my heart was truly in my mouth for the safety of Ja-sung. His desperation to get out of the mafia life without harm after successfully completing his initial assignment makes him the only character we can really relate to and empathise with. Through no fault of his own, his bosses have once again thrown him to the sharks and he must do whatever he can to swim and survive. If he fails in any circumstance, it’ll spell disaster and we all know mobsters hate nothing more than a cop!
A tensely woven tale from the writer of I Saw The Devil, NEW WORLD is a prime example of gripping modern mafia movies at their best.