Facing the blood-drenched mirror
Undercover cop thriller 'New World' a gory addition to Korean cinema
By Yun Suh-young
A recurrent subject in Park Hoon-jung’s work ― whether working as a screenwriter or director ― is men who struggle to retain a sense of integrity in environments that work against this. And he seems incapable of telling their stories without using scenes of extreme violence.
"New World,’’ opening in theaters today, is a dark and gritty gangster picture that borrows heavily from the influential Hong Kong thriller "Infernal Affairs’’ (2002) and the Martin Scorsese masterpiece it inspired, "The Departed’’ (2007).
In the director’s chair this time, Park apparently decided to distinguish this film by pushing the level of violence up against the limits of acceptability. As a result, New World becomes yet another gory addition to an already blood-soaked collection of Korean action films, which some worry are becoming one-dimensional.
The main character is Lee Ja-sung, played by Lee Jung-jae, a cop who goes undercover as a gangster. He had been embedded in the Gold Moon organized crime syndicate for eight years, during which he rose to become the right-hand man of Jung Chung, played by Hwang Jung-min, whose is being groomed as the next leader of the family.
The word "new world’’ is the police codename for Lee’s undercover mission that is aimed at eventually dismantling Gold Moon from the core. The name becomes increasingly ironic as the movie progresses with Lee slowly becoming a product of an environment he was supposed to work against.
The source of tension is predictable. Lee finds himself increasingly identifying with the men he is deceiving and becoming increasingly frustrated over his isolation and the risks that Kang forces him to take. Lee’s identity crisis drives the movie toward a shocking conclusion, where he indeed finds himself in a ''new world’’ where the boundary between good and evil is permanently blurred.
Park has written the screenplays for several tough and gritty films such as "The Unjust’’ (2010), ''I Saw the Devil’’ (2010) and "The Showdown’’ (2011), where the plots and commentary about the darker sides of human nature seemed to exist to support outbursts of outrageous violence. New World falls right in line.
"I wanted to portray how the three men in the movie ― Kang, Lee and Jung ― all had their own ideas of the 'new world’ that would unfold before them after their goals are achieved. In progressing toward their goals, the role of the good and evil are sometimes switched around, intended to leave the viewers confounded over who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. I think this is a genuine representation of the real world we live in,’’ Park recently told reporters.
"I want people to focus on the macroscopic drama on how power and organization can dictate a person’s own choices and life.’’
Kang is perhaps the most fully developed and complicated character in the movie. He is a cold, heartless man who sees no room for mercy and pushes the undercover mission with a relentlessness that doubles the cruelty directed at Lee.
Jung, the impulsive gangster, is portrayed as more warmhearted and ferociously loyal to his brotherhood, although displays ruthlessness when competing with rival Lee Jung-gu, played by Park Sung-woong, to take the helm of the crime group.
Stuck between them is the undercover cop who is forced to live a life that is the radical opposite of his inner life or rather his idea of it.
Park chose to shoot the movie in tones of gray tone portending the futures of the men. In most scenes the cast is dressed in different shades of gray, whether in suits or jackets.