In the U.S., they say there is even more
corruption on the local governmental level than the Federal, because that is
where all land use decisions are made. The same seems to be true in Korean—and Mayor
Park Sung-bae is glad of it. He is determined to get all the prime cuts from a
plan to redevelopment a former U.S. military base in fictional Annam. Of
course, he has plenty of other nefarious side businesses, including a large
meth dealing operation. For years, Det. Han Do-kyung has done the mayor’s dirty
work, but an ambitious prosecutor will force him to either double down or turn
state’s evidence in Kim Sung-soo’s spectacularly cynical Asura: The City of Madness (trailer here), which opens
today in New York.
In his world-weary voice-overs, Han refers
to himself as the mayor’s “gun-dog.” He means it the way it sounds. Having done
some pretty despicable things for his boss (who also happens to be his
cancer-stricken wife’s half-brother), Han is poised to accept a position in City
Hall as his reward. Unfortunately, things fall apart rapidly when an equally
venal but less connected fellow cop interrupts him paying off the junkie who
recently kidnapped a witness against the mayor. During the resulting scuffle,
Han accidentally kills the crooked copper, forcing him to frame his drug-addled
lackey to save himself.
To further complicate Han’s life,
prosecutor Kim Cha-in starts blackmailing Han to inform on Park. Facing his
wife’s impending mortality has made Han remorseful for choosing the crooked
path. However, he can tell Kim is no Fritz Bauer or Rudy Giuliani. In fact, he
might be just as ruthless and sociopathic as Park.
poetically named after constantly warring Buddhist demigods) makes recent Korean
political corruption thrillers like Inside Men and A Violent Prosecutor look
like The Smurfs. No mere ward-heeler,
Mayor Park is practically the Devil incarnate. Of course, the flamboyantly devious
pol is totally in Hwang Jung-min’s wheelhouse. He gleefully gobbles down the
scenery and delivers insanely villainous pronouncements like Mussolini on the
balcony. In contrast, Jung Woo-sung is relatively restrained, but watching the cumulative
punishment of all the smack-downs he endures also represents quite a compelling
performance, but one of a wholly different order.
Amidst this world of shady characters, Kwak
Do-won also stands out as the cold-blooded Kim Cha-in. If you are looking for
subtlety here, your best bet is Jeong Man-sik, who brings some finer gradations
to Do Chang-hak, Kim’s lead investigator, at least when he is not beating on
poor, degraded Det. Han.
Tight, tense, and bracing like iced black
coffee, Asura could be the least
sentimental film of the year. Kim Sung-soo never gives viewers anyplace to
hide, but he pays them off with third act mayhem worthy of Johnnie To at the
top of his game. Very highly recommended for action and procedural fans, Asura: The City of Madness opens today
(10/14) in New York, at the AMC Empire.
Labels: Cop Movies, Hwang Jung-min, Korean Cinema