In Indian mythology, Asura is a god or a demon. Kim Sung-soo’s new production by no means reveals his film’s characters as gods; on the contrary, they are a group of nefarious people, including an unscrupulous detective Ha Do-kyung (Jung Woo-sung: A Moment to Remember, Cold Eyes) and covetous mayor Park Sun-bae (Hwang Jung-min: The Wailing, Veteran).
Asura: The City of Madness takes place in the city of Annam and its Brazilian-looking run-down areas. In the centre of the film’s narrative, there are Ha Do-kyung (he does dirty jobs for Park), Park Sun-bae and Kim Cha-in (Kwon Do-won: The Wailing, The Magician), an ambitious prosecutor who is eager to bring the city’s mayor down.
It all begins with a junkie aka Crocodile (Kim Won-hae: Missing You, A Violent Prosecutor) beating up a man who is supposed to testify against the corrupted mayor and his team. It seems like everything goes according to plan, until Crocodile meets Han to receive a payment for his work. Han, while being on a job with his partner – who is unaware of it all – Moon Sun-mo (Ju Ji-hoon: Confession), confronts the junkie, and that’s when the situation gets out of hand, as another colleague of Han’s arrives and explains that he is aware of his corruption; they quickly get into a fight and – by accident – Han kills the other detective. Moon Sun-mo witnesses it and panics as he has no idea what to do. Han decides to beat Crocodile up (who is now under influence of heroin) and put the blame on him as he thinks no one would believe the junkie but him – and that’s where he is wrong.
Han has been planning to leave the police force and join the mayor’s team full-time; however, after the incident, he is bound to stay and help with the investigation; unaware that Kim Cha-in also has an eye on him, he carries on helping the mayor.
With great conviction, Han reassures Park that the case of Crocodile and the accidental death of the detective won’t be connected to him; however, now that the mayor is looking to push forward with his money-grabbing scheme, he threatens Han and tells him to sort everything out or he will regret his incompetence later on. Since Han is now stopped from becoming one of the mayor’s men, he suggests Sun-mo to become one; the young man is slowly consumed by the evils of politics, corruption and murder. While him and Han were partners before, now they have to compete for the mayor’s approval; the bloodshed-driven narrative quickly gains control of the film.
With everything that is happening on the big screen – and there is a lot going on – the audience is treated to a slightly over-the-top climax scene by the end of the film; with crazy yet superbly choreographed fight scenes, Asura: The City of Madness gives the viewers a bit of a Tarantino-like taste; you may notice that Kim Sung-soo’s film is – somewhat – influenced by the American filmmaker. With a macho but layered performance by Jung Woo-sung, which solidifies him as a remarkable actor, and Hwang Jung-min’s convincing characterization of a professional and maniacal criminal that is mayor Park, Asura: The City of Madness is a first-rate crime thriller. Kim Sung-soo has definitely followed in the footsteps of Beat (1997) and City of the Rising Sun (1999); both films are about gangsters and both are equally violent, but not as brutal as Asura: The City of Madness (Asura is Kim’ and Jung’s fourth collaboration).
You cannot miss Kwon Do-won’s portrayal of the prosecutor – who later turns to be as immoral as the rest of the protagonists – as it is an impeccable one. Known for his latest horror film The Wailing, Kwon Do-won’s aggressive and at times irritating performance makes you wonder: is there, at least, one honest character in the film? I guess not, as even Moon is turned into a murderous individual – great acting from Ju Ji-hoon.
The car chase scene is technically well executed by the CGI team of the 4th Creative Party (The Handmaiden, Equals). Cinematography, fast editing and music are simply spot on! The only issue I had with the film was the length of it; it could have been done within 95/100 minutes rather than in 130 minutes.
It seems like the subject matter of the film is not too far from the current political issues – including corruption – within the South Korean’s government. While Asura: The City of Madness might not be to everyone’s taste due to the extensive violence, it is still an intriguing, thrilling and well-directed feature from Kim Sung-soo.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © CJ Entertainment