Friday, July 19, 2013


Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives Film festival darling, Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn is perhaps best known for his entertaining "Drive" (2011), in which Ryan Gosling terrifically plays a reticent getaway fast car driver. If you have an expectation about their new collaboration to be something at a similar level of "Drive," then consider you have been warned. Nicolas Winding Refn confidently creates a bloody mess in his bizarre new film "Only God Forgives" (France/Thailand/USA/Sweden 2013 | in Thai/English | 89 min.). Ryan Gosling even has fewer words to speak in this film, while Kristin Scott Thomas says too much that is both mesmerizing and amusing.

The film's story is quite simple revolving vengeance. Reticent Julian (Ryan Gosling) and his violent brother Billy (Tom Burke) run a boxing club in Bangkok as a front for their drug dealing business. After Billy brutally killed a 16-year-old prostitute, a sword flinging cop Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm) instructs the girl's father to take revenge on Billy.

Billy's death summons Julian's bitchy mother Crystal Kristin Scott Thomas to Bangkok. She looks and behaves like a queen, and scolds on everyone, including Julian and Maï (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam), a prostitute Julian frequently patronizes. Crystal demands the heads of Billy's killers, which include Chang. In revenge, merciless Chang begins to go after Julian and Crystal, with impeccable strokes of his sword.

Only God Forgives

Director Nicolas Winding Refn appears to be determined to make a film that is unconventional. He is more interested in creating a strange and creepy atmosphere than sophisticated characters. That would be fine if he shows something fresh and original. But in this film, he often deploys the oldest trick in horror movies—there must be nothing good in the dark shadow where you can't see, while the music chases your heartbeats in the background. Sure enough, something jumps out to you from the dark.

For reasons perhaps only Refn knows, he directs his actors to walk as if they are models on a catwalk—they all either look angry or have no expression at all; they all walk slowly looking straight forward, even their enemies are in the side view; they turn a perfect ninety degrees abruptly at the end of each catwalk. While the actors perform their catwalk moves over and over again, the overwhelming music (by Cliff Martinez) never misses a note, which is supposedly enhancing the atmosphere, but I find it's noisy.

No matter how you look at the film, it is definitely an orgy of graphic violence. But the unflattering display of disturbing violence seems unnecessary to the film's storytelling and seldom contributes any substance. Doesn't Chang's torture scene last too long on the screen? And for what? Plus, the violence in this film certainly lacks the comic and entertaining effect as those in Quentin Tarantino's films.

Ryan Gosling is given little to do and few words to say in the film. However, Kristin Scott Thomas is unforgettable for playing the sharp tongued Crystal who has an ambiguous relationship with Julian. Refn doesn't seem to be interested in elaborating the logic behind his characters' strange behaviors. He simply makes them look like unpredictable and creepy. One of such scenes shows Chang passionately singing in a Karaoke bar (no subtitle for the lyrics), and other cops listen to him respectfully in silent.

That's a strange atmosphere indeed. Too bad it isn't interesting.

"Only God Forgives," a RADiUS-TWC release, opens on Friday, July 19, 2013 in San Francisco Bay Area.

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