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July 09, 2013

New World

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Sinsegye
Park Hoon-Jung - 2013
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

While New World follows a classic template about gangsters as members of an organization, run along similar lines as big business, there is an added emphasis on formality and protocol. Park Hoon-jung has several shots of arranged seating based on rank, whether in a board room or a hospital waiting room. The gang members are all in dark suits, with white shirts and dark ties. When four gangsters from the Yanbian Prefecture of China show up, with their garish clothing and lack of grooming, they look out of place, their comic presence quickly undercut by their deadly actions.

When the boss of a major criminal organization is killed in an apparent traffic accident, several rivals emerge. Police detective Kang has an undercover operative, Ja-sung, who in eight years, has climbed up the ranks as respected gangster boss. Ja-sung wants out, but Kang insists that he stay in while the ranking crime bosses fight it out as to who will be the new boss. Kang insists that he is powerless to make any change on Ja-sung's behalf. What emerges is a story of secret connections between cops and criminals.

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One of people Ja-sung reports to has a Go (the Chinese chess game) table in her living room. The game serves as an appropriate symbol for a film that is as much about strategy. The characters, like Go pieces, move around, sometimes finding themselves captured and surrounded, with the winner controlling the greatest part of the board and having the larger number of stones. Park has his characters keep their moves secret so that much of what follows in the film is unexpected.

The protocol of gangsters is repeatedly shown with kowtowing to the upper echelons, while underlings are frequently berated. Similar to American gangster movies are two scenes of funerals, but as Buddhist ceremonies. A bribe is offered in the form of money baked into a large box mooncakes, the Chinese holiday treat. Ja-sung is often called "bro" by top boss, Jung, but the only family connections seen are those based on professional ties, as police or criminal.

Jo Yeong-wook has an elegiac score that emphasizes the fatalism that pervades the story. At several points, characters think a situation is in control, a moment that is transient at best. All victories are temporary and contain the seeds of loss and destruction. A Hollywood remake is already in the works for this film that has been a commercial and critical hit in South Korea. While the story might be duplicated, I'm not counting on seeing a repeat of the scene where two large rival gangs of well-dress gangsters bring out the swords and baseball bats for a bloody rumble.

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Posted by peter at July 9, 2013 08:15 AM