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‘New World’ a well-made noir with superb acting

Noted screenwriter Park Hoon-jung’s second feature film was finally unveiled to the press last week, featuring three heavyweight actors ― Choi Min-sik, Hwang Jeong-min and Lee Jung-jae ― in the lead.

What the film deals with is nothing new, at least in Korean cinema: a criminal organization, its gangsters and the cops who try to chase them down. However, Park, who is best known for his screenplays for Kim Ji-woon’s “I Saw the Devil” and Ryu Seung-wan’s “The Unjust,” managed to create a heartless and entertaining flick about power, greed and betrayal.

“New World” is, in Park’s own words, “a film about gangsters doing politics, in suits and ties.” While doing exactly that, Park skillfully blurs the boundary between the police and gangsters, as well as the good and the bad. The police headquarters abuse their low-ranking officers while trying to do the righteous thing ― arresting the criminals. Some of the gangsters, on the other hand, share genuine camaraderie with each other ― while committing all kinds of illegal deeds.
A scene from director Park Hoon-jung’s upcoming film “New World” (NEW)
A scene from director Park Hoon-jung’s upcoming film “New World” (NEW)

The thriller tells the story of police detective Ja-seong (Lee Jung-jae), who is assigned by his manipulative boss Kang (Choi Min-sik) to an undercover investigation into “Gold Moon” ― one of the biggest crime organizations in the country.

Kang asks Ja-seong to spy on the gang’s second-in-command Jeong Cheong (Hwang Jeong-min), after finding out both Ja-seong and the gangster are ethnic Chinese, on top of sharing the same hometown of Yeosu, South Jeolla Province.

Ja-seong’s investigation goes on for eight years, and he eventually finds himself caught between Jeong, who calls him a “brother” and “trusts him with his life,” and his senior detective Park, who only uses him and never gives him the recognition he deserves.

The film gets even more dramatic as the mob boss is suddenly killed in a car accident, and the group’s two opposing factions, one led by Jeong and the other by ruthless and vengeful member Lee (Park Seong-woong), vie for power. Detective Kang comes up with a cunning and dangerous plan to come between Jeong and Lee ― using Ja-seong’s trusted position in Jeong’s faction ― to break up the Gold Moon. Kang knows his project puts Ja-seong’s life at risk, but makes no plan to protect him if Ja-seong hits dire straits.

Hwang Jeong-min (“The Unjust,” “You Are My Sunshine,”) is impressive as Jeong Cheong, who is arguably the most likable character in the film. The gangster is a lot of things ― he is an ethnic minority, a caring boss and a competent, thorough individual. During the press conference, Hwang said he only remembers “having fun” while playing Jeong, whom he described as a “chameleon.”

“Jeong Cheong is really something,” he said. “He’s very versatile and has many different qualities and characteristics that make him unique.”

Respected veteran actor Choi Min-sik (“I Saw the Devil,” “Oldboy”) is also convincing as the manipulative villain, while Lee Jung-jae (“The Thieves,” “The Housemaid”) presents a credible portrayal of a victim who is conflicted between two different worlds, against his own will.

“Ja-seong doesn’t really start nor do anything by his own will,” Lee said. “He just gets caught up in things. He is not allowed to show his emotions, while required to tell lies all the time. I somehow had to deliver his real emotions in spite of his difficult situation, and that was the biggest challenge while playing this character.”

Actor Park Seong-woong is also a presence in the film, as the charismatic, ruthless gangster who meets an unfortunate end.

“New World” is an engaging noir with resounding acting and a highly entertaining narrative. Ultimately, it is a film about power and how it blinds those in authority, and those who strive for it.

A New Entertainment World release, “New World” opens in local theaters on Feb. 21.

By Claire Lee (