Review: NEW WORLD 신세계 (2013) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Review: NEW WORLD 신세계 (2013)

NEW WORLD has flashes of brilliance that recall the work from THE GODFATHER, INFERNAL AFFAIRS and ELECTION, but this South Korean cops-and-gangsters drama is mostly a tedious effort.

When NEW WORLD opens in South Korea earlier this year, it went on becoming one of the top moneymakers in the first quarter of 2013. It's easy to see why NEW WORLD ends up as a box office hit. First, gangster movie often proves as one of the most popular genres in the South Korean cinema. Second, the movie is blessed with a trio of top-notch cast consisting of Lee Jung-Jae (THE HOUSEMAID), Choi Min-Sik (I SAW THE DEVIL) and Hwang Jung-Min (THE UNJUST), and director Park Hoon-Jung who is a renowned screenwriter best known for his work in I SAW THE DEVIL. Last but not least, NEW WORLD has the overall look of THE GODFATHER, INFERNAL AFFAIRS and ELECTION all meshed up together as a potentially gripping cops-and-gangsters drama that guarantees to draw a sizable crowd. Unfortunately, the movie only looks good on the surface with a little depth here and there. Suffice to say, genre fans who are (widely) expecting the combination of the aforementioned three classic movie inspirations above will be mostly let down by NEW WORLD's lacklustre execution.


When the chairman of the biggest crime syndicate in Korea called Goldmoon is apparently killed in a mysterious car accident, the battle for succession to chair the entire organization quickly erupts. Among the potential candidates are the sadistic Lee Joong-Gu (Park Sung-Woong) and the flamboyant Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-Min). Meanwhile, Jung's trusted second-in-command, Ja-Sung (Lee Jung-Jae) is actually an undercover cop who has been working in the case for many years. He wants to bail out especially he has a baby on the way but his newly-promoted section chief Kang (Choi Min-Sik) needs him to stick around a while longer. Naturally, Ja-Sung is increasingly tensed for his extended undercover operation since he fears that his cover might be blown sooner or later.

All the technical credits are aces here while the three main cast is reasonably solid enough. Lee Jung-Jae brings a quiet intensity to his conflicted role as a gangster and an undercover cop. Veteran Choi Min-Sik brings a grizzled texture to his manipulated role as Chief Kang, while Hwang Jung-Min is easily the best of the lot as a foul-mouthed and quick-tempered Jung Chung who is both funny and scary at the same time. As for director Park Hoon-Jung, his meticulous direction proves to be quite an asset at times. The opening scene starts off with a bang that really holds our attention, and also the way Park Hoon-Jung introduces all of his primary characters with distinctive style. Then there's the multiple twists after twist, particularly towards the downbeat yet unexpected finale.

The intense scene at the Incheon warehouse that shockingly reveals the ugly side of the otherwise flamboyant Jung Chung after he discovers two moles in his midst; and the bloody confrontation at the underground parking lot that ends with a massacre inside the elevator.

As meticulous as Park Hoon-Jung can be in his directing style, there are many times the movie moves too slow that made its 134-minute running time quite a butt-numbing experience to sit through. Problem is, Park Hoon-Jung, who also scripted the movie, keeps thing too heavy-handed in his dense storyline. The other problem is the lack of action. Sure, there are moments of a sudden burst of violence especially in the middle part but they are not nearly enough to hold our attention. For the female cast, it's rather disappointing to see Song Ji-Hyo and Park Seo-Yeon relegated to thankless roles.

It's quite a shame that NEW WORLD fails to reach to its full potential, especially given the scope and the talented cast and crew in this ambitious production. Instead, it's a half-realised genre movie that is only good to be seen for its individual scenes rather than a compelling whole.

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