The title of South Korean director Park Hoon-jung’s latest movie, “New World,” derives from the name of an undercover police operation. A gangster-run corporation, Goldmoon, is about to choose a new boss, and the cops want to secretly control the succession.
This premise won’t seem particularly new to fans of Hong Kong cops-and-gangsters fare. “New World” plays like a Seoul-set mashup of two multi-part HK epics, “Infernal Affairs” (remade by Martin Scorsese as “The Departed”) and “Triad Election.” But if the Korean box-office smash doesn’t offer any surprises, it does pack a lot of style.
Park is best known in the United States as the writer of “I Saw the Devil,” a gory serial-killer flick. So it’s only to be expected that “New World” opens with the bloody face of a man who has been tortured and is about to be executed. The victim is a Goldmoon flunky, accused of providing inside dope to the cops.
In fact, the informant is much further up the chain of command. Seemingly loyal Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae) is a cop who has posed as a gang member for eight years and has become the trusted aide of Jung (Hwang Jun-min), one of the two men most likely to take control of Goldmoon.
An ethnic Chinese gangster with permed hair and an aversion to socks, Jung seems something of a rube. But he is ruthless and well connected in Shanghai. He’s the one who identifies some of Goldmoon’s police infiltrators by — timely plot point — hiring Chinese hackers to breach police databanks.
The other contender to run Goldmoon is Lee (Park Seong-woong), who represents the clan that founded the organization. He’s a formidable adversary but less of a problem to Ja-sung than his real superior, police detective Kang (Choi Min-sik, star of “Oldboy,” a U.S. cult hit). After Kang repeatedly declines to extricate Ja-sung from his dangerous double life, the clandestine cop begins to lose his cool. It doesn’t help that his wife is pregnant, making the undercover officer think it’s time for his family to seek refuge overseas.
Punctuated by stately funerals and chaotic melees, “New World” is as elegant and impassive as its suit-wearing thugs. Whirling camera movements and exuberant reverse zooms push viewers into the action and pull them through the various showdowns and double-crosses.
The frantic action doesn’t head toward redemption. In one chilling moment, the best thing Ja-sung can do for a colleague is be the ruthless killer he’s impersonating. And during a crucial sequence that cuts from one bloody situation to a very different one, “New World” feels as heartless as the men it depicts.
Unrated. At Angelika Mosaic. Contains graphic violence, profanity and smoking. In Korean and Mandarin with English subtitles. 134 minutes.