Abel Ferrara's "King of New York," a gritty action movie about a New York drug kingpin, was a surprise entry in this year's Telluride Film Festival, where tastes are usually loftier. Maybe the selection was intended to honor Ferrara as a stylist whose movies may look commercial but feel as if the soul of an artist is stirring somewhere inside them. That was the case with his episodes for TV's "Crime Story" and for his film "China Girl," the thriller that trapped two lovers, a Chinese-American girl and an Italian-American boy, in the battlefield between opposing gangs in New York's Little Italy and Chinatown.
Object of the Game
The movie was " Romeo and Juliet " recycled through " West Side Story " and the TV action series of your choice, but the look was something else - a garish, neon-lit film noir universe of warm lips, sleek hair and desperate eyes. Now comes "King of New York," Ferrara's most expensive and ambitious picture to date, with borrowings from a different classic.
Instead of "Romeo and Juliet," this one recycles " Robin Hood ," with Christopher Walken as a New York drug kingpin who wants to use his profits to pay the budget of a hospital for poor people. The Walken character never quite gets around to explaining precisely how he plans to set up his financing, and I am not sure any money actually goes to the poor and sick, but it's a good idea, anyway.
Walken glides through the movie with his usual polished and somehow sinister ease, a man supremely confident of his ability to succeed in an arena where most people end up dead. Part of his genius is to control a large gang of black drug dealers, whose fealty to him is hard to explain, although perhaps they enjoy attending business meetings in his suite at the Plaza Hotel. Eventually the empire breaks up, however, in double-crossings and reprisals, broken loyalties and stool-pigeons, although it will take a viewer more clever than myself to explain exactly what happens in the fragmented labyrinth of the movie's plot.
All of Ferrara's movies make a point of interracial friendships and romance, and Walken has at least two black girlfriends among his other sidekicks.
King of New York () directed by Abel Ferrara • Reviews, film + cast • Letterboxd
Frank exists in a weird kind of metropolitan purgatory, with one foot in the scummy recesses of drug dens and dingy clubs, and the other in luxurious hotels, boring stage shows and expensive benefit gigs. This, Ferrara seems to say, is the real New York; people like Frank merely rise to the top in a blaze of gunfire and quickly destroy themselves. After a rip-roaring sequence of shoot-outs and chases, King Of New York settles back to the same meditative, chilly atmosphere it opened with. Once surrounded by splendour, bodyguards and call girls, Frank meets his end alone.
Crowning the King of New York, Part 4: Manhattan
He begins the film in the back of a stretched limo, and dies in the back of a taxi, gun in hand. Swanky ballrooms quickly give way to ugly warehouses and run-down shops with peeling walls. Classical music is drowned out by pounding hip-hop.
The film begins and ends in lengthy scenes of almost complete silence, which sandwich stylised action scenes of almost John Woo levels of outlandishness; Laurence Fishburne wields dual pistols which never need to be reloaded, and cars engage in endless chases down empty moonlit streets. Roy Bishop: Who made you judge and jury? Frank White: Well, it's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.
Frank White: There are some things I don't do. Frank White: How come you never came to see me? Jump: Who wanted to see you in a cage, man? Frank White: I heard that. Roy Bishop: Do you really expect to get away with killing all these people? Frank White: I never killed anybody who didn't deserve it. Roy Bishop: So what, are you going to shoot everybody you can't arrest? Dennis Gilley We can make it look like a rival gang.
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The King of New York Argument
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