Sunday, July 13, 2014

CURRENT REELS: HOON-JUNG PARK'S "NEW WORLD"


Now here is how you make a movie. I've already waxed poetic about Korean cinema, and this gem only reinforces my praise. New World (2013) still works as a thriller, but is first and foremost a gangster film, hence its exclusion from my millennial thrillers list. Perhaps a Korean gangster flicks list is also in order. No shortage of goods there.

The gangster sub-genre yields a few approaches, whether it's springing for the action element of car chases and shootouts or the slow boiler of hair-raising suspense. Chases have become rather daunting to watch and generally go on for too long, with choppy MTV style editing and little in the way of substance. When you're looking at the clock during an action sequence, the filmmaker has failed. My personal preference is a gangster film that reads like a chess game. It's about wit, the next move, the twist at every turn. Yet, the blueprint has been so ingrained in all of us, that it's hard to be surprised by a plot twist anymore. New World surprised me. The reveals weren't entirely mind-blowing, but were inserted with such calculated precision. They had me.

Usually, the audiences start to see how the plot unfolds when they aren't fully immersed in the material. They have the time to check out of the story line and step back to ponder what may be coming next. When you're in the thick of it with the characters, there's no time to speculate, and the reveals hit you in real time. That's quite masterful if not altogether rare.

The premise is average enough - an undercover cop is torn between following the orders of his possibly corrupt police chief or those of his crime boss. Reads either as a cheap TV movie, or something more weighty á la Infernal Affairs (2002). Thankfully, it's the latter. The film opens with a wonderfully decadent sequence involving oil drums, crepuscular docks, and cement smoothies. They have me hook, line, and sinker. 

The film has no intention of letting up from there, and you're made to navigate the maze of boardrooms, parking garages, restaurants, and airports - all housing copious amounts of extras in expensive bespoke attire. Ah yes, the the tailored suit aesthetic. A gangster film isn't a gangster film without tailored suits, because style matters.

There's a fabulous scene of tension buildup that had me sweating bullets along with the lead. Who knew a pair of headlights and a few sheets paper could be so effective? New World is intelligent and has personality in spades, though not the caricature kind of loud, eccentric villains. These fellas are believable because of their roguish panache, not in spite of it. The code of honor is strong, so will the protagonist side with the supposedly good guys who keep betraying him, or climb the crime ring ladder where loyalty reigns supreme? Give this one a watch, because it's worth every minute.

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