The Korean cop movie "Asura: The City of Madness" has the ambition of "The Wire" and the gritty texture of a Hong Kong action picture. Though the plot's too convoluted, the relentless pace and pungent atmosphere elevate the film above the typical grim crime stories soaked in blood and despair.
Jung Woo-sung stars as Detective Han, a conscience-plagued crooked cop in Annam City, where the mayor controls nearly every money-making enterprise, legal and not — and his political opponents manage the rest. Han finds himself caught between the power-hungry prosecutor who wants him to flip on his boss and the wide-eyed partner who wants to learn how to get on the take.
Veteran director Kim Sung-soo keeps the political commentary in "Asura" in the realm of the abstract, exploring the layers of rot in a fictional metropolis that has more in common with Gotham City than the real world.
But the film is also unusually attuned to the social and economic pressures that can turn a hero like Han into another cog in the machine. Even at more than two hours, "Asura" isn't long enough to do its subject justice, but Kim does try to show how social structures decay from neglect.
A showstopping mid-film car chase represents everything "Asura" does well. It's stylish and exciting, but as Han is zipping through rain-soaked streets with his enemies closing in, the scene also illustrates how it feels to be on slippery moral ground, and pushed from all sides.
'Asura: The City of Madness'
In Korean with English subtitles
Running time: 2 hours, 16 minutes
Playing: CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles; Regal La Habra Stadium 16, La Habra; Regal Edwards University Town Center 6, Irvine