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Film / King of New York

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Roy Bishop: "Did you really think you were going to get away with killing all these people?"
Frank White: "I spent half my life in prison. I never got away with anything. And I never killed anybody who didn't deserve it."

A 1990 gangster film, directed by the legendary Abel Ferrara. The film stars Christopher Walken, Laurence "Larry" Fishburne, Victor Argo, and Giancarlo Esposito and features (in the first major screen roles for each) David Caruso and Wesley Snipes. Though initially panned by critics for its enthusiastic use of violent and sexual images and its "glorification" of criminal activity, the film carved out a niche audience among fans of gangster movies and rap, and is today considered a classic example of 1990s crime cinema.

The story concerns Frank White (Walken), a powerful drug lord who is released from prison after serving a lengthy stretch, and reunited with his old gang, led by streetwise goon Jimmy Jump (Fishburne). Frank claims to have reformed and hobnobs with the cream of New York society to prove it, but continues to engage in his criminal pursuits. He has a dream: to unite the whole New York underworld in one multi-racial organization, with himself at the head, and use some of the profits to build hospitals for the poor and the needy. But there are a few roadblocks, like racist Mafia boss Arty Clay (Frank Gio) and greedy Triad gangster Larry Wong (Joey Chin), who will need to be cleared away first.


Meanwhile, the cops, led by the low-key Roy Bishop (Argo), do their best to bring Frank back in on any charge that will stick, but are stymied at every turn by his fleet of high-priced lawyers. Finally, two of Bishop's subordinates, Dennis Gilley (Caruso) and Thomas Flanigan (Snipes), decide to take the law into their own hands, and get Frank by any means necessary...

Provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Affably Evil:
    • Provided that you're not on his bad side, Frank can be a rather jovial and warm fellow.
    • Jimmy has these moments. He even hands out money to an old lady and her grandkids after a cashier barks at them to stay away from the arcade machines.
  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Frank mocks this trope while talking to Bishop, pointing out that drug consumption went up while he was in jail.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Every woman given more than two cumulative minutes of screen time will get in Frank's pants. Or Jimmy's pants. Or both.h
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  • Amoral Attorney: Frank's attorneys are complicit in his criminal activities. One attorney Jennifer, is so in love with him that she basically behaves as his consiglieri.
  • Arbitrarily Large Bank Account: Frank apparently saved up quite a bit before going to jail. He rides around in a limousine, stays at the Plaza, wears fancy suits, and doesn't even blink before ordering his lawyers to put up $2 million in bail for Jimmy and Blood. This, despite the fact that he's been off the streets for eight years.
  • As Himself: Columnist Pete Hamill and singer Freddie Jackson.
  • Asshole Victim: Tito and Artie Clay get killed by Frank's goons, establishing him as a brutal kingpin, but they were nasty pieces of work themselves.
  • The Atoner: Frank is a very strange example, bordering on a subversion. He does want to do good after a lifetime of crime but he never really changes his behavior, just directing towards a different cause, and he makes clear he doesn't feel remorse for many of the people he's killed, whom he claims were much worse than he was.
  • Badass Bookworm: Test Tube, who is the crew's resident chemist and wields a mean pistol.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: The whole NYPD. The best of the lot is Bishop, and even he goes along with kidnapping Frank as a form of intimidation.
  • Bait-and-Switch: When Frank first meets his gang after getting out of prison, it seems like there's a tension between them, but then they share some sort of goofy private joke between them and reveal that they're still best buddies.
  • Better Living Through Evil: Three thugs mug Frank on the subway. After scaring them with his pistol, he gives them a wad of cash and offers them all jobs. Two of them are later seen among his Mooks.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Frank is a ruthless drug dealer and cold-blooded murderer who is working towards a noble end and genuinely trying to change. The police are correct when they say it's obscene how Frank can get away with murder but are willing to break those same laws to catch him. The victims of Frank's reign are despicable individuals though, who engaged in vile activities such as child prostitution and scamming illegal immigrants.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Flanigan's mouth is bloody after he's shot, showing that the bullets did real damage.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: New York in the movie is shown to be a crime-ridden hellhole which isn't too far from Real Life considering that the crime rates in the city were still relatively high until Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor in 1994 and helped curb crime across the city.
  • Bodyguard Babes: Frank White rarely goes anywhere without his attractive Salt and Pepper pair of bodyguards, Melanie and Raye.
  • Bodyguard Crush: In the opening scenes, it is very heavily implied that the first thing Frank did after getting back to New York was to have a threesome with Melanie and Raye.
  • Boom, Headshot!: One each for Gilley and Jimmy.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Frank's men kill a Colombian drug dealer for his in the opening sequence. Also subverted during the same sequence, when another Colombian thinks he's getting one, but opens it to find it full of tampons.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Flanigan's doesn't do him much good.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Arty Clay insults Frank to his face, then threatens his life, despite being unarmed and all his men being covered by Frank's goons. Maybe he thought being The Don made him bulletproof.
  • Car Fu: The car chase/shootout has a lot of bumper car action. Jimmy also uses his car to ambush Flanigan and Gilley.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Quite a few, especially from Jimmy and Gilley.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Frank and company live it up.
  • Cool Guns: Jimmy is very fond of wielding two Beretta 92's at once while Frank's signature weapon is a nickel plated Browning Hi-Power. One of Jimmy's men also uses a Desert Eagle in his intro scene.
  • Crapsack World: The police are powerless to stop drug dealers who in turn have to spend their days dodging bullets and living in constant fear of death, evil men cannot be reasoned with, only destroyed, anyone who believes in a cause or moral crusade will die for their idealism and in a world of evil, crooked but well-meaning cops and cold-blooded philanthropists are the best anyone can hope for. And for Ferrara, this is upbeat.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Jimmy shoots and mortally wounds Flanigan, so Gilley kills Jimmy. Frank gets back at him by blowing his head off with a shotgun at Flanigan's funeral.
  • Da Chief: Bishop is the New York police chief who is the boss of Gilley and Flanigan.
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: The first three-quarters or so of the movie is made of this. Though when the comedown hits, it hits hard.
  • Dead Guy on Display: After Larry Wong tells Frank and Jimmy where his barrels of heroin are hidden, they kill him and string him upside down in the storage room.
  • Death by Materialism: Joey Dalesio betrays Frank and his crew to a rival gang after they offer him a lot of money. When he later gets caught, Frank orders him to be buried with his spoils to punctuate his disgust.
  • Disconnected by Death: One of the Colombian drug dealers killed in the opening sequence is done in while placing a call from a phone booth.
  • The Don: Arty Clay is a Deconstruction, being a fairly accurate representation of what Mafia gangsters from Michael Corleone's generation were really like.
  • Downer Ending: Practically everyone is killed, and Frank's hope of redemption go unfulfilled.
  • The Dragon: Jimmy is the right-hand man of Frank.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: Frank, Test Tube and Melanie are white. The rest of the gang is black. This is one of the things that Arty Clay holds against Frank.
  • Evil Is Hammy: "Larry" Fishburne is still picking the scenery out of his teeth.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Called on his murderous ways by Bishop, Frank excuses himself by claiming that all his victims were worse than he is, engaging in human trafficking, child prostitution and the like.
  • Fanservice: The women in Frank's gang sure love taking their tops off.
  • Falsely Reformed Villain: After his release, Frank makes every effort to rebuild his image, attending swanky plays and ritzy restaurants, hobnobbing with politicians and celebrities, raising money for hospitals and jokingly announcing that his new life goal is to be Mayor. All while making eight-figure heroin deals and killing rival gangsters left and right.
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: Jimmy lectures Test Tube that the proper way to test cocaine for purity is to snort it. Later, Lance takes a lick out of one of Larry Wong's barrels of heroin to see if it's the real deal.
  • Giggling Villain: Jimmy really loves to laugh.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Gilley and Flanigan though we're really stretching the term Good.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Frank is a drug dealer who builds hospitals for poor people. His opponents are cops who decide to get him even if it means murdering a whole bunch of people in cold blood.
  • Guns Akimbo: Jimmy's favored battle stance.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Gilley and Flanigan. While they wish to put an end to the criminal activities of Frank and his gang, they engage in some really brutal if not violent tactics towards their enemies.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Frank and Jimmy have a close yet non-romantic relationship with each other. Gilley and Flanigan also share a close bond.
  • "Hey, You!" Haymaker: A Boom, Headshot! is perpetrated in this fashion.
  • Hookers and Blow: The favored method of recreation for Frank and his men.
  • I Control My Minions Through...: Kindness and money. All of Frank's goons seem to love him. Except Dalesio.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Gilley and Flanigan often tries to justify their actions this way.
  • It's All About Me: Gilley and Flanigan care more about getting Frank arrested than following the rules.
  • Jerkass: Gilley and Flanigan, both of them being the nastiest cops, ever. Jimmy is pretty personally unpleasant to anyone outside the gang.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Gilley and Flanigan can be nice guys when not on the job, as the wedding scene shows.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Gilley and Flanigan go from roughing suspects up a little to putting on balaclavas and hunting them down in a remarkably short period of time.
  • Kill 'Em All: Every notable character ends up dying, including Frank's entire gang, the police detectives trying to catch him, and even Frank himself.
  • Lean and Mean: Frank is tall, lanky, and merciless.
  • The Mafia: The Italian mafia in the film are represented by Arty Clay.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: Frank lives in a luxury hotel, wears nice suits, and rides in a limo. However, his taste in culture isn't necessarily elevated. While at the theater, he looks like he'd rather be anywhere else.
  • Mob War: A very brief one, between Frank and Larry Wong.
  • Moral Myopia: Both Frank and Gilley are guilty of this.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Frank and Jimmy murder all of their problems. Gilley and Flanigan also decide that killing Frank is the only way to get him off the street.
  • Mutual Kill: Frank and Bishop shoot each other at the end.
  • Odd Couple: Frank is a cool, collected and erudite kingpin, while Jimmy is a crass, flippant street hoodlum.
  • Off on a Technicality: Why Gilley and Flanigan decide to take the law into their own hands, because they're afraid they can't make a legal case against Frank.
  • Officer O'Hara: The cops are implied to be largely Irish. Gilley is played by the carrot-topped David Caruso, and even the token black member of the force Flanigan has a very Irish name. Gilley makes a crack about it.
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Frank and company throw one right before it all goes to hell, with plenty of cocaine, naked dancing ladies, and 1980s hip hop.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Some of the villains of this movie are really evil. And thus their downfall is going to be what they reap. Tito, who prostituted girls. Artie Clay, who exploited his own workers.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Frank's hospital project.
    • Zig-zagged when Jimmy visits the chicken shop. He's insufferably rude to the cashier but then hands out money to an impoverished family after the cashier barks at them.
  • Police Brutality: Consistently applied by Gilley and Flanigan.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Arty Clay, who drops three or four racial slurs against blacks in less than five total minutes of screen time.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Frank tries to talk it out with Larry Wong, suggesting that they should become partners in drug distribution. He is rebuffed.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Jimmy and Blood each get one in the opening sequence:
    King Tito: [looking at a briefcase full of tampons] What the fuck is this?
    Jimmy: They're for the bullet holes, puta!
    • Seconds later...
    Blood: [crashing through a hotel room door] ROOM SERVICE, MOTHERFUCKERS!
  • Rabid Cop: Gilley and Flanigan decide to go after Frank White and his gang guns blazing after the legal system fails them. This results in both of them dying violently in a Cycle of Revenge.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Bishop. Compared to Gilley and Flanigan, he does not engage in brutal tactics against criminals.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Jimmy's "welcome home" present to Frank is to kill a bunch of Colombian drug dealers he apparently had a grudge against.
  • Salt and Pepper: Three of them: Frank and Jimmy, Gilley and Flanigan, and Melanie and Raye.
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: Frank uses one to reduce Gilley's head to chunky salsa.
  • Shout-Out: Larry Wong and his crew are unlikely fans of classic cinema. He screens Nosferatu for his gang while meeting with Dalesio and says he's got Frankenstein coming up next.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Joey Dalesio tells the NYPD about the criminal activities of Frank and his gang.
  • There Is No Kill like Overkill: Most of the murders probably qualify, but sending three assassins armed with shotguns and machine pistols to kill one guy trapped in a phone booth and unable to reach his weapon takes the cake.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Frank and his men kill quite a few enemies by using the tactic of "pulling out a gun and shooting them," which their targets seem, for some reason, to be complete unprepared for.
  • Title Drop: Gilley makes a sarcastic toast to Frank being "the King of New York."
  • Trademark Favorite Food: In spite of being a hardened and coke-snorting gangster, Jimmy Jump loves his root beer.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: They are represented in the film by Larry Wong.
  • True Companions: Frank and his crew. When he gets out of prison, Jimmy Jump and the others are really excited to have him back.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Frank sincerely believes his actions are necessary for creating a better city.
  • Villain Protagonist: Frank and Jimmy, all the way. Even with having sympathetic motives and their fair share of Pet the Dog moments, they still commit numerous crimes.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • When Jimmy gets shot by Detective Gilley, he starts raving furiously and gloating about his previous murder of Detective Flanigan until Gilley has had enough and goes in for a Coup de Grâce.
    • Frank becomes increasingly unhinged as his criminal empire starts collapsing around him, proceeding to murder cops in broad daylight and with multiple witnesses around, ranting at the police captain pursuing him about how everyone he killed had it coming, holding an innocent woman hostage, and finally dying in the backseat of a taxi from a previously sustained gunshot wound while surrounded by cops gathered to arrest him.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Frank harvests an image of himself as a benefactor for the poor. This, more than anything else, is what Gilley and Flanigan hate about him.
  • Villainy Discretion Shot: Rampant. We see Frank kill a lot of gangsters, but we never see the effects of his drug dealing on the people of Harlem.
  • We Have Reserves: When one of Frank's right-hand floozies is grappling with an assassin, Frank rather remorselessly guns them both down.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • Gilley and Flanigan. Despite their brutal methods, they want to put an end to the crime wave engulfing New York City and Frank's illicit activites.
    • Frank too. He wants to build a multi-ethnic crime syndicate to build hospitals for the poor and needy and generally improve the city.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Bishop is the only one who have the guts to call out Gilley and Flanigan for their extreme actions.
  • White Shirt of Death: Both Frank and Bishop make the mistake of wearing one for the last twenty minutes.
  • Wicked Cultured: Subverted. Jennifer drags Frank to an avant-garde play, with which he is clearly bored out of his mind.
  • Workaholic: Bishop. While the other cops drink, laugh and dance at a wedding reception, he ducks out so he can go home, sit in front of his computer and pore over Frank's file.
  • World of Ham: Victor Argo seems to be the only one who didn't get the memo.