It’s not accurate to say that Korea’s NEW WORLD is a remake of Hong Kong’s INFERNAL AFFAIRS even though that’s how it was dubbed. It does pay tribute to the original but it offers new twists and angles.
It can’t be helped though, especially for an IA fan like me, to keep on referencing to the Andrew Lau thriller just to figure out where the story is going. That’s because NEW WORLD is not as straight-forward as IA where it was clear from the beginning that Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s character is the good one and Andy Lau’s is the evil one, and it was a battle of wits between the two snitches. What makes it even more interesting is that these two characters have been morphed into one character, Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae), in NEW WORLD.
Anthony Wong’s police officer is resurrected in Kang Hyung-Chul, played oh so good by Choi Min-sik (I hope I have the guts to watch OLD BOY), who reminds me of Robert de Niro. The character of crime boss Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-min) is a morphed version of Eric Tsang’s loud, flamboyant triad boss and Chapman To’s loyal, trusting underling. Then there are the women too: Kelly Chen’s shrink is Shin-woo (Song Ji-hyo), Ja-sung’s “chess teacher” and handler; while Sammi Cheng’s clueless fiancee is Ja-sung’s pregnant wife who also turns out to be a spy.
NEW WORLD refers to the operation to take down Goldmoon, a crime organization that is rising in influence in the business world. The plot borrows ideas from Korea’s actual headlines on big businessmen being charged with fraud and bribery, among others. Kang acts like a puppet master trying to pit the leaders of Goldmoon’s rival factions to take the organization down, and caught in the middle of it is Ja-sung, who wants out of the spy business already especially since his wife is about to give birth.
Aside from Choi Min-sik, it’s Hwang Jung-min’s endearing portrayal of the flamboyant gangster who stays loyal to his friend and ally up to his death despite his betrayal, that stands out in the film. His death scene borrows from Chapman To’s unflinching loyalty. Lee Jung-jae, meanwhile, is his usual stoic, poker-faced self. Even when he’s begging his superior to let him off already, you can’t really feel the internal conflict unlike Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s acting. And though the relationship between the snitch and his boss, one of three people who knew his real identify, was heartwarming in the original, in NEW WORLD, it looked like unrequited love on the part of Kang. The only time that Lee’s acting moved me was in that crucial scene in the warehouse when Jung Chung summons him and reveals that he knows who the spy is. While Ja-sung is saved momentarily, he also takes matters in his own hands and kills Shin-woo himself, but I see it more as a move not to save his ass in case she talks, but to save her from the misery of being hacked to death by the hooligans. That was also the only time I saw how his relationship with Kang is important and it seems that was also the only time he discovers that Shin-woo and Kang are lovers, so his act of killing was done more for his superior.
The triumph of evil in NEW WORLD is not compelling as it was in INFERNAL AFFAIRS because while Andy Lau’s double face character legitimizes his being on the side of “good” by rising up in the police ranks, Ja-sung kills all his enemies, and his superior, and succeeds in the crime organization.
But killing Kang himself indicates he has made his choice. As Jung Chung told him before he died, he needs to choose which side he is with. He no longer needs to pretend he was evil, he has turned really evil.
I blogged about NEW WORLD in January and boy, was I so wrong on many parts. Though I kept referencing to IA while watching NEW WORLD, the Korean film does deserve to be judged on its own merits.
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