Choi Min-sik

New World (2013, Park Hoon-jung)

It never occurred to me there might still be significant mileage in the undercover cop melodrama. Or, for that matter, in the gangster melodrama. New World proves me uninformed on both points. Writer-director Park mixes both genres, somewhat unequally, and creates this unbelievably good film.

I use the adjective “unbelievably” because, for the most part, Park isn’t doing anything new. Sure, it’s modern and set in Korea, but there’s a lot of gangster standards at play. He just remixes them perfectly–there are a couple new features, of course–and has an amazing cast act them out.

For about half the film, Lee Jung-jae’s the lead. But then it switches over to Hwang Jeong-min, who kind of runs off with the picture. A lot of it is him facing off against villain Park Seong-Woong. Watching these two makes one forget Lee’s even in the picture–much less Choi Min-sik as the cop out to take down the gangsters–but director Park is able to bring it all back together.

Park never gets particularly showy with the direction. Beautiful photography from Chung Chung-hoon too. They’re both very controlled, making World an exceedingly measured, precise picture.

It’s hard to say who gives the film’s best performance. It wouldn’t work without Lee’s quiet turn as the primary lead, but it also wouldn’t work without Hwang’s viciously affable performance. And Park Seong-Woong just oozes controlled evil.

New World takes a while to get there, but it’s revelatory.



Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung; director of photography, Chung Chung-hoon; edited by Nam Na-yeong and Moon Sae-kyung; music by Jo Yeong-wook; produced by Kim Woo-taek and Park Min-jung; released by Next Entertainment World.

Starring Lee Jung-jae (Lee Ja-sung), Hwang Jung-min (Jung Chung), Park Seong-woong (Lee Joong-goo), Choi Min-sik (Kang Hyung-chul), Song Ji-hyo (Shin Woo), Kim Yoon-seong (Seok-moo), Na Kwang-hoon (Yang Moon-seok), Park Seo-yeon- (Joo-kyung), Choi Il-hwa (Director Jang Su-gi), Jang Gwang (Director Yang), Kwon Tae-won (Director Park), Kim Hong-pa (Director Kim) and Ju Jin-mo (Police commissioner Go).

Oldboy (2003, Park Chan-wook)

Thanks to Joint Security Area, I was leery of Oldboy going in. While Park Chan-wook has a large fan base, all JSA did was convince me they weren’t seeing the same movie. Finally, after Oldboy, I can understand why he has the fan base… and it’s unfortunate.

Park had his big revelation ending to Joint Security Area and it felt inorganic. Oldboy‘s big end reveal sequence does feel organic, but it also feels incredibly manipulative. It’s sensationalist–evidenced by the intentional lack of resolution to it. It’s an either way ending–maybe from the source manga–but also maybe to appeal to that now popular sentiment of an ending like Oldboy‘s being cool because it’s ambiguous. What Park does in Oldboy is deceive the viewer for the film’s entirety, then pat himself on the back at the end. It’s a safe, immature ending. There’s an analog to a John Sayles film–I can’t reveal which one because it’d give away Oldboy‘s conclusion–but the two are world’s apart. Sayles works through the sensationalism to the human reality of the situation and tries to reconcile. Park just tries to be cool. Guess who’s a more popular filmmaker (and guess who’s a better one)?

But what’s strange about Oldboy–I checked with a friend, who said it was in the three to four range… and it was until the Seven slash Unbreakable ending–is Park’s great direction. With the early exception of a very standard umbrellas from above (another Seven reference), Park’s Panavision direction is fantastic. There’s a long fight scene, panning across it, and it’s a wonderful use of the frame. Park’s panning, actually–there’s a lot of it–is maybe the best panning I’ve seen. He does it for tone, he does it for effect, he does it for action. Even at the end, as the film’s crumbling, he’s got this great digital composite shot. It’s a little too clean looking; still excellent.

The music–by Jo Yeong-wook–is an essential component. More than any of the other technical aspects (the editing is good, but the cinematography, while competent, lacks any personality), the music makes Oldboy. The music has a lot to do–combined, it and Choi Min-sik’s voiceover narration (present tense, which is a little odd, but given the film’s manga roots, not surprising), make up the majority of Oldboy‘s exposition. It works–a little awkwardly, a little painfully hip at times–but it does work.

So, in reality, not many of the film’s actors have a lot of acting to do. Choi gives a fantastic physical performance, but it’s physical to the point of a Buster Keaton performance… without the close-ups. He gets to define his character through the voiceovers. Kang Hye-jeong’s character’s allegiances and motivations are in constant question, so she never gets to flesh out her role. She does a fine enough job, but Park doesn’t really ask her to do anything except be sweet and vulnerable. The real stellar performance is from Yu Ji-tae, who gets to run off with the film after a certain point. Park visibly realizes Choi’s character is ruined–in terms of giving Choi anything interesting to do–after the big reveal, whereas Yu gets to become the best Bond villain ever.

While the film does appeal in its shock value trendiness to American audiences, Oldboy is definitely a reaction to the Korean film. Much of it feels like an intentional comment on the Korean romantic drama, only distorted and cynically packaged. As for the originality… again, I’m afraid a glib comparison would reveal the ending… it’s impossible, for me, right now, to know what Park took from the manga and left.

Oldboy‘s very much about watching Choi’s quest. But his quest is very much a Grimm Brothers fairy tale, in the original sense, and it’s a fairy tale without a reward at the end, which always seems to be the thing filmmakers don’t want to acknowledge the form, by definition, requires.



Directed by Park Chan-wook; written by Hwang Jo-yun, Lim Joon-hyung and Park, based on a story by Tsuchiya Garon and the manga by Minegishi Nobuaki; director of photography, Jeong Jgeong-hun; edited by Kim Sang-beom; music by Jo Yeong-wook; production designer, Ryu Seong-hie; produced by Kim Dong-ju; released by Show East.

Starring Choi Min-sik (Oh Dae-su), Yu Ji-tae (Lee Woo-jin), Kang Hye-jeong (Mi-do), Ji Dae-han (No Joo-hwan), Oh Dal-su (Park Cheol-woong), Kim Byeong-ok (Mr. Han), Lee Seung-Shin (Yoo Hyung-ja) and Yun Jin-seo (Lee Soo-ah).

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