Asura: The City of Madness FILM REVIEW
“Do you want to keep living in this hell?” lead prosecutor Kim Cha-in asks Han Do-kyung, the film’s lead, before getting his men to beat him mercilessly. This is probably something that the latter is wondering himself throughout Asura: The City of Madness as he is forced to play piggy-in-the-middle for corrupt politicians and law enforcement in the decrepit metropolis of Annam. Made to go from one compromising position to another, Han is stuck in a bloody battle between the two groups, and it’s not going to be easy for him to get out.
How did Han Do-kyung get to this point you may wonder? Well, for him, there aren’t many other choices. With his wife laying terminally ill in hospital Han has to find a way to support her, and the best source of income is working for the town’s corrupt mayor, Park Sun-bae, who also happens to be her brother. Intimidating witnesses, starting fights, and creating elaborate facades to maintain the mayor’s image, Han will do anything to prove his loyalty. After accidentally killing his police captain, though, he is forced to step to the side-lines and it doesn’t take long for prosecutors to make him find evidence against the politician.
Director Kim Sung-soo first imagined the grim narrative behind Asura nearly a decade ago, but because of its unconventional nature, producers were reluctant to support the project. It’s a brutal and unforgiving film, with most of its 132-minute runtime spent on violent encounters between the characters, so it’s not surprising that it took so long for it to get off the ground. He did manage to find someone that was happy to back him, though, and let him go all out on the project. The result? An exhilarating blood bath that rarely lets up.
The film opens with Han watching as his informant intimidates a witness before he gives a testimony against the mayor. He is presented with a video of illicit relations with an underage girl, and Han’s informant takes a hammer to his teeth to force him to retract his statement. It’s a dark scene and difficult to watch but it perfectly illustrates the brutality that the film deals with. Things are only about to get worse, though. Violence breeds more violence, and it all culminates in carnage at a funeral home as Han, Park Sun-bae, his men, and the prosecution team fight to the bitter end. There are intense exchanges and bloody blows exchanged between characters, and it is here that we see the film at its peak.
Getting to this point in the story isn’t easy, though, as the story doesn’t flow as well as it should. It is hard to know whose side Han Do-kyung is on. One minute he is recording his conversations with the mayor and then the next he’s double-crossing the prosecutors that are blackmailing him, and things start to become convoluted as a result. So much so that the film is often hard to follow, particularly at its halfway point. That being said, the climactic battle is worth the wait and it makes up for any initial confusion. This is an action film that isn’t afraid to hit hard and take its characters to some dark places, it’s completely unforgiving and will likely stay with you long after you leave the hell behind.
Review by Roxy Simons