REVIEW: Asura: The City of Madness

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Asura is a movie that toys with being more, but is ultimately just about bloody bloody violence. Luckily the violence is pretty good but the movie kind of points to a better movie that never materializes so I’m still a little disappointed.

Asura has the set-up and makings of a great crime epic where no one is clean. It sets up a great intricate world that’s so fucked up it seems like there’s no real hope. Even our protagonist is not a good person, although he has a modicum of compassion and rationality, setting him apart from the rest of the major characters. The main villain of the movie, the mayor, is just a complete monster, only interested in his own gain. The team investigating the mayor and trying to bring him would nominally be the heroes here, but their methods are thoughtless and unscrupulous, ultimately motivated by the political desires and selfishness of their hierarchy. Asura does a good job of establishing the intrigue of a world where the system is fundamentally broken.

Unfortunately, Asura doesn’t really pay that off. It both lacks the confidence to simply allow evil to lie, or the smarts to figure a way out of this hole. Instead it all just leads to bloody mess of corpses.

Which is still pretty ok honestly.

This can be a pretty brutal, bloody movie. This is a world of macho aggression and it lives up to that in that there are ultimately no clever solutions to these problems. Whenever someone thinks they’ve figured a way out of the mess they’re in, they’ve got a pretty rude awakening coming.

But some of the set up to getting there is so good, it kind of out shadows that mindless violence; the movie kind of made me want more than what it ultimately had to offer. It’s not an uncommon problem for movies of this type, plenty of movies solve their problems by just murdering all of them. But this is a long movie, and there’s a section in it before the end that made me go “Oh man, that would be an amazing, ballsy way to end this movie.” Unfortunately the movie keeps going, and ends up taking the easy, although visually spectacular, way out.

Part of that is this movie pulled out “Way Down in the Hole,” which was the theme song for The Wire (Which I just was not expecting at all from this Korean film). The most surprising thing though was how well it fit, in a way that made me feel like the director had to have seen that show. But if he did, he only took the surface lessons from it, because this movie overshoots the hole-in-one it had lined up. The movie goes for a definitive ending, but it’s at its strongest when it’s just showing the gears of the city turning.