Review: Vengeance

Directed by: Johnnie To

There was a time way back when, where I was obsessed with asian cinema.
I would have to say it was probably about the mid 90's, when The Killer and anything done by John Woo, Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark were finally getting notice here in the states. It was a HUGE time in asian cinema. Unfortunately, with the exception of John Woo who would go on to have a pretty decent career in Hollywood making flicks like Mission:Impossible 2, Hard Target, Broken Arrow, and most notably Face-Off to name a few, these guys were pretty much relegated to only making a few movies for Jean Claude Van Damme in his hayday before heading back to there respective homeland. Then came the "Asian Horror" genre, which blew the action genre out of the water. But thats another article.

Anyway, I used to be obsessed with Asian Cinema. But as the quality of the stuff coming out lessened, so did my interest. It's probably been about a good 10 years since I've gotten excited about any new project in the action genre whether its Japanese, Korean, Thai or whatever.
So as I was browsing the instant netlix releases on my t.v., this title caught my eye. After sitting in my qeue for a month, I decided to give it a shot.
I can honestly say that this movie has single handedly renewed my interest in action Asian Cinema. Right from the beginning were shown this film means business, and while the pacing shifts from slow to intense to full blown action from one scene to the next, its done in such a way that it never slows the picture down.

Real life French pop legend and film icon Johnny Hallyday plays a chef and restaurant owner named Costello, who does actually look Italian by the way, who seeks revenge for the slaying of his daughters entire family. It's a brutal slaying which shows no mercy to anyone. Were not given much information on this guy in the beginning. But we see he means business and somehow knows how to get things done. He hires a group of assassins or hitmen to find out who killed his family and to exact revenge. That's his sole purpose in life now, to kill the men who did this and he doesn't care if he dies trying. He and the hired hitmen begin to form a bond, which complicates there lives when the men are forced to choose who they are more loyal to. There kingpin boss or there new employer. Loyalty, revenge and redemption are the main themes going on here.

Of course through the course of the film you're given bits of information that reveal Costello is an ex-hitman or had some dealings with the mob way back in the day. Because we all know that if you were a hitman, then you would naturally be a good chef since you know how to work a knife, right? He's also slowly losing his memory. Kind of a Memento kind of thing. Though the majority of his memory loss takes place in the course of the few days that this film takes place, which seemed more of a way to make things more interesting as it's a pretty straight forward revenge flick.

My only main comlaint would be that it's pretty hard to follow the dialogue as the picture is in English, but the main actor is French and supporting actors Chinese. As the dialogue shifts from English to French to Chinese, it's really hard to make out what they say most of the time as they all speak with really thick accents. Thats probably why actual spoken words are almost non-existent. It's all done with body language, scowls and stares. This film is all mood and atmosphere with there being so many slow motion shots of just men walking or looking or sitting. I've got to hand it to director Johnnie To for making the most mundane and boring shots look beautiful and interesting. He's one of the few filmmakers left who hasn't reverted to the whole hand-held camera craze that just drives me nuts. He's got a true, raw talent for making an action picture look beautiful. I gotta check out this guys other films now for sure. Maybe a little too much on the slow-mo side, it still packs a punch. He knows how to set up a shot and though the acting can be wooden with the broken and choppy dialogue, you still get whats going on.
The technical aspects far outweigh my little annoyances. One that sticks out is how they do there bullet wounds. It's just brilliant and I've never seen it done like this before. When someone is shot, it's more of a red mist exploding from there body than a full out blood squirt. I couldn't tell if it was done digitally in post or if it was done practically, but it looks great! Thats the little nerd in me.

wooden acting, but a solid all out revenge flick with plenty of gun battles, violence and blood to satisfy a true action fan. No "shaky-cam" shit going on here.