Tuesday, March 19, 2013

New World: Park Hoon-jung’s Gangster Election

These candidates will not debate, but there will be plenty of dirty campaigning.  Yes, we have seen organized crime “elections” before, classic ones in fact.  However, in this case, a crafty old copper plans to be the secret hanging chad.  He will play a high stakes game in hopes of influencing the Goldmoon syndicate’s succession in Park Hoon-jung’s New World (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

We know Choi Min-sik is a serious hardnose, because he was in Oldboy, I Saw the Devil, and Nameless Gangster.  Indeed, we can tell his Detective Kang does not have a lot of qualms about cutting corners right from the start, but he will soon raise Machiavellian ruthlessness to an art form.  Years ago, Kang placed Lee Ja-sung, a green police recruit, super-deep undercover with Goldmoon.  Since then, the corporate alliance of criminal clans has become so powerful the police only hope to contain it.  The untimely rubbing out of their chairman presents a golden opportunity.  The strategically placed Lee will influence the ensuing leadership struggle to benefit Kang’s favored contender, but only Kang and his easily manipulated superior know the details of Operation New World.

Even Lee is not privy to the identity of Kang’s candidate, but he generally assumes it will be Jung Chung, the violently erratic head of his clan.  Lee chafes under Jung Chung, openly resenting his immaturity and condescension.  Nonetheless, since they are both ethnic Chinese, the prospective chairman completely trusts his lieutenant—at least for now.

Together with last year’s Nameless Gangster, Choi delivers a heck of a gangster epic one-two punch.  He again commands the screen with his rumpled middle-aged intensity.  While his work as Kang is somewhat understated compared to his turn in Devil (also written by Park), he still brings a sinister charisma that makes the movie.  By the same token, Lee Jung-jae matches him step for step as Lee, tapping into all kinds of angry, paranoid inner turmoil.  Yet, neither is as disconcerting as Hwang Jun-min’s nearly feral Jung Chung.

It is possible some viewers might guess New World’s big twist, but the circuitous route it takes to get there is devilishly clever and grimly logical.  Park keeps the tension cranked up and when it is time for a big gangster brawl he pulls out all the stops.  The elevator scene alone is worth the price of admission. 

Sometimes you see an Asian crime film so wickedly entertaining, you know Hollywood will not be able to resist producing an inferior remake.  That is the kind of badness we are talking about here.  For fans of the gangster genre, New World is this year’s must see.  Recommended for patrons of smart mob dramas who are not afraid of a spot of violence, New World opens this Friday (3/22) in New York at the AMC Empire.