New World, the latest crime thriller to come from Asia – which has quickly become a genre all of its own – maintains the extremely high quality pedigree established by the likes Johnnie To, Takashi Kitano and Chan-wook Park, that even if it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of those masters, is still a fine film in its own right.
From the opening shot of a bloodied man gagged and bound to a chair, it’s immediately clear the kind of “new world” the film’s depicting. It is a world where problems are solved by filling them with concrete (using a funnel – as we also learn from the opening scene), stuffing them in a barrel and rolling them off a ship into the ocean. At the heart of this world is Ja-sung (Jung-Jae Lee), the right hand man for a sociopathic mob boss, Jeong Cheong (Jeong-min Hwang), who’s also an undercover cop. The plot of the movie kicks in when the main mob boss (or CEO – the mob has become fully incorporated in these post Godfather 3 capitalist days) is suddenly killed, starting a war between Jeong, Lee Jung-gu (Seong-Woong Park) the other most likely candidate for leader, and Ja-sung’s boss, police chief Kang (Min-sik Choi), who starts playing them against each other to install his own preferred candidate who he can manipulate into keeping order. Ethically, this is a world where the police are little different to the mobsters as they orchestrate an all-out war which claims heavy casualties on all sides, and like the current crop of South Korean actioneers, the film pulls no punches. Despite a complex and engaging plot, the film suffers narratively from its tendency to play a little too close to the story of Infernal Affairs (or its American remake, The Departed), even with its great plot twist at the end.
The film features the usual stylish widescreen cinematography and elegance that we’ve come to expect from these movies, but it’s the individual sequences which are most interesting. The movie features one of the most tense and surprising scenes in modern cinema when Ja-sung – along with the viewer – thinks his cover’s been blown and he’s summoned to the warehouse where the film’s first scene of torture took place. You will be sweating in your seat right along with him. It also features what may be the definitive gang fight, especially when it leads inside a packed elevator for a conclusion that’s guaranteed to make even the biggest connoisseur of these films squirm. A brief postscript to the scene that takes place in the emergency room of the hospital and shows the logical progression of these things is a nice cherry on the cake for viewers who like their comedy on the dark side.
Despite the at times distracting resemblance to Infernal Affairs, New World is a well-crafted and engaging thriller which fans of the genre will easily come to embrace.
New World is out on DVD through Madman Entertainment.