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Film review: Asura – Jung Woo-sung, Hwang Jung-min in bloody tale of corruption and betrayal

This tale of political corruption and crooked police is overpowered by highly choreographed ultra-violence and smug machismo

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 February, 2017, 7:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 February, 2017, 7:32pm

2/5 stars

It has been a good year for South Korean cinema, producing everything from sumptuous erotic costume dramas ( The Handmaiden ) to adrenaline-fuelled zombie thrillers ( Train to Busan ). In their midst strides Asura, a blood-splattered tale of corruption and betrayal fuelled by vacuous, bile-spewing machismo and encased in a cynically hollow cinematic sheen.

Jung Woo-sung plays Han, a shady police detective in the pocket of corrupt city mayor Park Sung-bae (Hwang Jung-min). About to quit the force to work for Park full-time, Han is propositioned by the equally slippery prosecutor Kim (Kwak Do-won) to inform on his benefactor.

Embroiled in a case involving the deaths of a key witness and fellow officer, Han stalls, only for his ambitious young partner Sunmo (Ju Ji-hoon) to slide into his spot as Park’s new muscle. As the pressure mounts and the body count rises, Han is running out of time to choose a side.

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In a transparent ploy to garner audience sympathy, Han is burdened with a terminally ill wife but proves just as vile and morally reprehensible as everyone else. In fact, any attempts to comment on political malfeasance or compromised loyalties are eclipsed by writer-director Kim Sung-soo’s infatuation with juxtaposing tightly-choreographed sequences of ultra-violence with classic American rock ballads.

The impressive cast is reduced to a parade of sharp suits swaggering around with a self-satisfied smugness, and their film amounts to a relentless 136-minute tirade of shouting, slapping, shooting and stabbing. Korean cinema has always held a fascination for the inherent fragility of masculinity, but in Asura, it does so at the expense of almost everything else.

Asura opens on February 23

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