New World has nothing to do with Christopher Columbus, the Americas or anything else outside of South Korea. It’s the code name for a sophisticated operation that the South Korean National Police is going to launch. Unlike the U.S., where we have federal, state, county and city level law enforcement, there is one National Police Agency for all of South Korea.
“Ja-sung” (Lee Jung-jae) is a young officer of the NPA who is inserted undercover into a gang. The NPA is concerned that the gang is growing in power and influence as other clans and groups become part of it Eight years later Ja-sung has risen to become the right-hand man to “Chung” (Hwang Jung-min), the number two in the entire Goldmoon organization. Now “Lieutenant (later Chief) Kang” (Choi Min-shik) has promised Ja-sung that once “Chairman Seok” (Lee Geong-yung) is toppled, he will be pulled out and sent on an overseas assignment to keep him safe.
But when Seok is killed in an automobile accident under strange circumstances, Kang and his boss see an opportunity. They can use Ja-sung to help influence who will take over and run Goldmoon, and limit their future activities. This becomes Operation New World. Ja-sung doesn’t want any part of it, but since only Kang, his boss and Ja-sung’s female handler know who he is, he has no choice but to continue in his undercover role. What follows is a struggle between several factions to choose who will sit at the head of the table and assume the title and role of Chairman. The pressure on Ja-sung is ratcheted up a notch by the fact his wife is pregnant with their first child.
New World has its share of violence, but it isn’t gratuitous violence simply there to shock and awe an audience. It is to demonstrate just how violent and ruthless these gangsters can be. To show the retribution that will come from betrayal. It isn’t a ‘chop-socky’ film in any way, although there are a number of large fight sequences. They are intense, brutal and do not drag on too long. Nor do they make anyone look ‘super-human’. In the end, Ja-sung must choose sides and the choice is not an easy one.
The acting is good from the main players. So is the dialogue although I’m sure it suffers from translation to Hangul into English subtitles. There are a few grammatical errors in those subtitles but this is totally forgivable. Writer/director Park Hoon-jung’s influence can be seen in the fact this is a dialogue-driven rather than action-driven story. But it is an improvement over his debut feature, The Showdown. Perhaps moving from wuxia to a modern crime thriller helped. One thing he manages to capture quite well visually is how the modern elegance of Seoul disappears quickly when you go into some neighborhoods. There you find poverty and squalor, much like any major U.S. metropolis. New World is definitely worth the journey.