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Movie Critique: “From the New World” (2023) directed by Choi Jeong-min.
Movie Critique: "From the New World" (2023) directed by Choi Jeong-min.

Movie Critique: “From the New World” (2023) directed by Choi Jeong-min.

I need to bring my son back to life.

Movies depicting cults, while a prevalent issue in countries like Japan and Korea, are not as abundant. However, there are some noteworthy titles, such as “Rebirth” by Izuru Narushima. In his fourth feature, Choi Jeong-min attempts to tackle this subject by presenting it in a realistic manner while maintaining its dramatic storyline throughout.

Myeong-seon and blind, elderly Sin-taek, leader of the Hwashin Church who worships the God of Light and believes in resurrecting the dead, defected from North Korea together. Myeong-seon’s son died and she joined Sin-taek for the possibility of his resurrection. They live in a rundown house and Myeong-seon works in a restaurant, trying to recruit more followers for the cult. The Teacher claims that this is necessary for the miracle to happen, while Myeong-seon takes care of Sin-taek. However, she faces backlash from the small town they live in, particularly from the women, due to her proselytizing, their North Korean background, and their lack of effort to adapt to their new environment. This leads to Myeong-seon losing her job. Eventually, a technician who fixes their boiler becomes interested in their teachings, a couple who lost their child joins the cult, and two girls, Jae-sook and Yeong-sook, who already knew Sin-taek, offer their support. However, Yeong-sook starts to feel resentful as Sin-taek and Myeong-seon try to take over, and issues with the core beliefs of the cult remain.

While the combination of North Korean defectors who belong to a cult may seem excessive, Choi Jeong-min’s approach is mostly realistic. The story sets up Myeong-seon’s exploitation from the beginning, as the Teacher takes advantage of her desire to revive her deceased son and her blindness by having her care for him. Myeong-seon’s actions, although somewhat naive, emphasize the idea of motherhood and the irrationality that can come with it, especially in times of loss and mourning.

It is understandable to empathize with the main character who faces continuous bullying but remains determined to reach her goal, even though the idea of resurrection may seem absurd to others. In addition to the mistreatment from the community, Choi also comments on the reception of North Korean immigrants in the South, which is less than ideal. The conflicting situations of the two protagonists make it difficult for them to find a solution, and it is understandable that those who oppose them may sometimes act as a group.

In addition, the author, Choi, portrays the various protagonists and newcomers to the cult in a realistic manner, shedding light on how the cult operates and how leaders are chosen, as well as the mindset of its followers who are often desperate, impoverished, and lacking in intelligence. Interestingly, the story also reveals that individuals may join these groups for different reasons, painting the cult members as victims. However, it also suggests that the organization itself can be more harmful than its individual members. Furthermore, the overall approach in the story seems to avoid placing blame on specific individuals, portraying them all as victims in some way, although this may not be entirely realistic.

Jeong Ha-dam as Myeong-seons is impressive throughout the movie, with her desperate efforts and her continuous failure deeming her heroic on a number of levels. Kim Jae-rok as Sin-taek is convincing in his holy madness and his evident effort to convince against logic. Myung Chae-mi as Jae-sook and Shin Na-rae as Yeong-sook are quite good in the roles of the villains essentially, with the scene of revelation being one of the most impactful in the whole film.

The camerawork in the film adheres to the realistic tone of the plot, using close-ups and mid-shots to follow the main character. This creates a documentary-like style. Additionally, a tour guide element is introduced, adding an engaging sense of movement to the story. While there is some slowdown towards the end, the overall pace is well-suited, progressing at a steady pace.

Although there were a few problems, “From the New World” stands out as a compelling narrative, especially due to the strong performances, the suspense surrounding the ending, and the depiction of the cult concept.