Monday, December 13, 2010

"Vengeance" (English/Cantonese/French) (2009) - Movie Review

“Vengeance” like any other revenge film ends with a strange melancholy despite the objective its central character achieves. It has a sporadic sense of odd beauty and there are completely messed up lingering side by side. Its strangeness in the actors, material and the presentation makes it accessible at one time and then it suddenly suspends out in the air making the viewers wonder in confusion. Directed by Johnnie To, it has French rockstar Johnny Hallyday and Chinese actor Anthony Wong who gave a spell binding performance in the Infernal Affairs series.

His daughter’s family were targeted and Francis Costello (Johnny Hallyday) promises revenge to his barely alive daughter. He is a stranger to this strange land. He does not know the language, does not have any idea on the purpose of the killings on his family but all he wants is revenge. He is losing memory too and like “Memento”, he keeps record of the people he meets and wants to kill. Johnny Hallyday fits the bill of the new man in a weird town as he did in my all time favourite French film “Man on the Train” but also falls behind in the acting.

He was the man with regrets and remorse in that French classic while here he is a clueless man going for everything to achieve his goal. With minimal clues from his daughter he sets out for finding the killers. There were three men and coincidentally he runs into three other hit men. They are not his targets but he witnesses them coming from his neighbouring room after he hears gunshots. They see each other and he walks by. He immediately offers help to the police who are investigating the murders and lets off the killer walk by too. He knows how to play this game. He gains the trust of these men and assigns them the job of hunting down his enemies.

The music by Lo Tayu runs its theme throughout the film which never gets monotonous. Costello and the men Kwai (Anthony Wong), Chu (Lam Ka-Tung) and Fat Lok (Lam Suet) becomes connected. In these cold hearted hit men, there strikes a chord. Costello after a while reveals that he used to be a hit man. Soon there are odd battle scenes of guns blazing and blood spatters from each of their bodies. The fights are all sometimes comic and sometimes stylish and most of the time random.

Johnnie To’s venture left me clueless as it had a unique presentation techniques on one end while on the other hand appeared disjointed. The emotions are stale and there is nothing much you can make of the characters. Kwai played by Anthony Wong has a presence more than the star value of Hallyday. He comes lean, stoic and with a style. He commands leadership among his men. Without any dialogue we know that Chu is his right hand man while Fat Lok is the side kick he plays around with. These three are rather taken by surprise by Costello. Being a complete stranger, they are pushed back by the daunting nature in which Costello approached them.

The film carries through most of it convincing us through these chaotic experience and arrives at a point where it should have called it a day. That moment is when Costello begins to completely lose his memory and wonders what revenge is. They leave him with their trusted friend (Michelle Ye) and that should have been it. Chu asks what does revenge mean when the man has forgotten everything and Kwai’s response should have brought up the credits. Johnnie To wanted closure in his film and thus the movie continues laboriously after that.

Granted “Vengeance” has an elegance in the madness of the story telling it takes on but Hallyday’s character never settles in. While the character himself does not gets the opportunity to settle in, the oddity in the movie has an expiration date which ends 20 minutes before the actual ending. I went along for the ride and had some moving and freaky moments in the film. Then it all tumbled down.

Johnny Hallyday has the facial structure that is simultaneously scary and powerful. It can bring the kindness with the slightest of smile and the eyes can kill you instantaneously. Yet the stale acting of Hallyday does not fit out here which was picture perfect in “Man on the Train”. Here it is out of place and Anthony Wong steals the show completely from the French rock star. Johnnie To uses special methods to feature the violence in the film with over the top gun fights and blood splatters like powder than liquid. With this kind of presentation “Vengeance” is both a good film and a badly featured one.

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