Can you direct Judge Jason Panella to the nearest karaoke bar?
"Even when Chinese people come to Japan, their nature is still the same."
New World (alternate title: Shinsekai Story) follows Coco (Shi Ka), a well-to-do young woman who lives in Beijing, China. She has lukewarm relationship with her boyfriend, some vapid friends, and a burning desire to stretch out and experience something other than her daily routine. A few days before Christmas, she plans a trip to visit her friend Ivy (Miyawaki Yan), who is studying in Osaka, Japan. The Osaka in Coco's dreams is a magical place with luxurious hotels on every corner and beautiful Christmas trees in every square. When she arrives, though, Coco realizes that she traded a China she disliked for a Japan that's wholly foreign to her.
New World was written and directed by Lim Kah Wai (Magic and Loss), a Malaysian-born filmmaker who has spent enough time in Japan and China to call either home (he calls the former home these days). Kah Wai's cross-cultural background gives New World a wonderful sense of authenticity—Coco is a foreigner several times over, in both Beijing and Osaka. Soon after arriving in Osaka, Coco meets Masa (Ogawa Takeru), a young Japanese man who turned his parents' rickety inn into an equally rickety hostel. Masa's attempts to show Coco around the Shinsekai neighborhood quickly go awry—not only is there a language barrier, but Coco gets a first-hand look at the toll Japan's recent economic troubles took on Shinsekai. This isn't the Christmas vacation she imagined.
Background details, like economic ties between Japan and China, nicely shade many scenes. Kah Wai nicely captures both Beijing and Osaka on film, making them feel like real cities populated by real people. In some ways, New World reminds me of a cultural reversal of Jim Jarmusch's films (which often owed a lot to Asian cinema). We're seeing Osaka through Coco's eyes, and it's drastically different than what she expected. But as the film progresses, she's able to come to at least some sort of understand of this foreign land and appreciate it for what it is.
But as New World unfolds, the characters don't blossom as fully as the sense of place does. The cast—mostly first-timers—feel natural with what they're given. The characters don't feel fully developed, nor do they portray more than one or two personality traits that remain consistent until the last minute or two of the movie.
These are annoyances, sure, but If anything hinders New World, it's the pacing. The first half of the movie is languid while the second half darts toward the end credits. The initial slowness is made worse by the sparseness of non-diegetic music. Things shift into high gear, though, once an organized crime subplot briefly takes over the story. It works, mostly, but the uneven nature of the film's flow is distracting from the good stuff Kar-wai accomplishes.
The Tidepoint Pictures release of New World features a nice 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a clear Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track. The English subtitles are pretty terrible. Not only are there frequent misspellings, but whole passages of Mandarin and Japanese read like someone cut and pasted sloppy translations from Google Translate (or worse, Babelfish). For extras, the disc comes with an interview with Lim Kah Wai (17:00), a tour of Shinsekai with Kah Wai and actor Koumei Tomonaga, and an overwhelming number of slightly different takes on scenes that clock in at around 30 minutes.
It has a host of problems, but New World is interesting (and touching) enough that I still liked it. If anything, it makes me excited for Kah Wai's future projects—you can see his talent underneath all of the rough bits.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tidepoint Pictures
• Deleted Scenes
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