ASURA: THE CITY OF MADNESS
Korea, 2016, 136 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Sung-soo Kim.
The Korean film industry has made a specialty in recent decades of films about political corruption and police corruption. This film is definitely in this vein. It was made and released at the time that the President of South Korea had to resign and was accused of corrupt practices. So, the film is not necessarily far-fetched, even though it may seem so.
The film is set in a reasonably large Korean city, not the capital. It is in the power of a strongman mayor, suave in his external manner, elected by the people, but surrounded by yes-men and employing thugs to achieve his ends. This is a portrait of a smugly self-satisfied ambitious politician who declares that he wants to build up the city, promote developments.
The other central character is a policeman who, in fact, is married to the half sister of the mayor. She is in hospital very ill and the policeman needs money to support her treatment.
The policeman himself has ambiguous moral stances. He does the will of the mayor but also has some repugnance towards the dealings of the mayor. This is seen at the beginning when there is an altercation with a policeman and he dies, a drug dealer informer on the spot being blamed and arrested.
In the meantime, the film shows various officials, political, legal and police who confront the mayor who is easily able to defy them and fob them off.
The police begin an investigation, in touch with the mayor and interviews with him but, as always, he seems to best his opponents. He defies them to bring him to any kind of political justice.
The corrupt policeman then become something of a go-between, concealing his connections with the police from the mayor. Ultimately, this leads to the desperate confrontation. Also in the mix is a close associate of the policeman who encourages him to get close to the mayor – and does so, relishing his position and his activities.
There are a number of choreographed fights, some close-ups of bloody violence, especially at the end with the policeman being wounded, his associate dying, leading up to a confrontation with the mayor – no survivors.
To that extent, the film is rather nihilistic in its observations of politics and police. Very well made but a challenge to viewers.