South Korea continues to crank out an amazing number of fine features, many of which are released in the U.S. only to get lost in the shuffle of indie and/or foreign films each year. Among these is Park Hoon-jung's gangster drama "New World," which opened on a few local screens in March.
Park lays his cards on the table up front, opening with a brutal torture scene, in which mobsters are bashing up one of their own. It may be the bloodiest sequence in the film, so proceed with that in mind. The basic story is one of the genre's favorites — the biggest of all the bosses is killed in an accident (or perhaps an "accident"), setting off a power struggle among his top lieutenants. The top contenders are Jung Chung (Hwang Jeong-min), an obnoxious, ethnically Chinese John Leguizamo lookalike; and Lee Joong-gu (Park Seong-Woong), a smooth operator with a passing resemblance to Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (So, if you've been eagerly awaiting a big Leguizamo vs. Gordon-Levitt showdown, this one's for you.)
Confusing the scene further are the devious moves choreographed by grizzled veteran cop Kang (Choi Min-sik, star of "Oldboy"). We see all of this from the P.O.V. of Ja-seong (Lee Jeong-jae), a second-tier gangster, who is both Jung's longtime best friend and Kang's top mole in the organization. After eight years undercover, he is itching for the different assignment Kang has long promised him.
Director Park's visuals are precise and glossy; the plot is well-paced — generally clearer than the similar setup in Hong Kong filmmaker Johnny To's celebrated "Election" (2005) and "Triad Election" (2006). The four leads also deliver the goods.
"New World" (Well Go USA, Blu-ray, $29.98; DVD, $24.98)
--ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).