Now showing in Hong Kong

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 : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 11:51am

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.

Film review: Master – Lee Byung-hun, Gang Dong-won in superficial financial drama

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

Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook