Devastated after a terrible family tragedy, gangster Park Tae-gu (Uhm Tae-goo) exacted revenge on Chairman Doh, the boss of rival Bukseong gang he deemed responsible for the ambush. Grateful, Tae-gu's own boss Yang Do-soo (Park Ho-san) arranged for him a getaway and hide out to Jeju Island for a week, en route for an escape to Vladivostok.
Tae-gu went over to stay at the house of weapons dealer Kuto (Lee Ki-young) while in Jeju. Kuto's niece Jae-yeon (Jeon Yeo-been), who picked Tae-gu up from the airport, was a young woman who had a death wish. Meanwhile, Director Ma Sang-gil (Cha Seung-won), who took over Bukseong from Doh, was hellbent on revenge on Tae-gu and the whole of Yang's gang.
Park Hoon-jung's first unanimous critical success and box-office hit as a writer-director was also a crime drama about gangsters, entitled "New World" (2013). A solid 9/10 for me, "New World" starred big stars like Lee Jung-jae ("Il Mare","The Thieves"), Choi Min-sik ("Oldboy","I Saw the Devil") and Hwang Jung-min ("Ode to My Father","The Wailing"). Its main plot was about intricate gangland politics with an integrated angle about police infiltration.
I've seen lead actor Uhm Tae-goo before, in "The Age of Shadows" where he stole scenes as sadistic Japanese officer Hashimoto. With his cheekbones creating prominently dramatic shadows on his face, Uhm's got the brooding part down pat, but he was certainly no slouch in the action scenes as well, be it a foot chase in the airport, or a car chase on the highway.
Jeon Yeo-been basically had that one expression of extreme annoyance on her face the whole film; it worked for her depressed character here. It was quite a departure from her role as spirited lawyer Hong Cha-young on the ongoing K-drama series "Vincenzo" where she was made to do some slapstick comedy routines.
Cha Seung-won played the brutal gang lord Director Ma with the dangerous slickness of an Italian Mafia don. Park Ho-san had a different approach to his being a gang lord, projecting a fatherly image as a front. Lee Ki-young played the bug-eyed Kuto with that jaded air around him, but this guy was clearly not heartless. Versatile veteran actor Lee Moon-sik played the brash Captain Park who tried to mediate peace between Ma and Yang.
In this new film, Park tackled a gang war from the inside, among the gangsters themselves. He played with the genre with evident inspiration from old Hollywood noir artistic styling. His gangsters here were always impeccably dressed, even in semi-tropical Jeju. His lighting and camera choices had a particular poetic elegance, despite the occasional violence and gore.
The pacing can feel too sluggish at times, which may tempt you to hit the fast-forward button, This contemplative film seemed to have been meant more as an arthouse piece, than a mainstream action film, like "New World" was. However, those fiery shootout scenes had mortality counts so high, you can never predict who will survive at the very end.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."