Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Lord
Starring: Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie
Testud, Anthony Wong
Chau-Sang, Ka Tung Lam, Suet
Lam, Simon Yam, Felix Wong
Rating: Not Rated
Runtime: 108 minutes
Distributor: IFC Films/Rainbow Media
Director: Johnnie To
Executive Producer: N/A
Producer: John Chong, Peter Lam, Laurent
Petin, Michele Petin, Johnnie
To, Ka-Fai Wai
Writer: Ka-Fai Wai
Address Comments To:Jonathan Sehring, President, IFC Films/IFC Entertainment
Joshua Sapan, President/CEO
Rainbow Media Holdings LLC (Independent Film Channel/IFC Films/IFC First Take/AMC/WE)
11 Penn Plaza
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 324-8500
Irene (Testud), the young wife and only survivor communicates through sign language from her hospital bed to her father, Costello (Johnny Hallyday), that what she wants above all is for him to avenge her family. Never mind that Costello is only a Chef in a Paris restaurant, and has no idea how to go about doing this, and of all places, in Macau, China. This is a father with a giant heart, however, and a better-suited background for the task than one might expect.
Through chance and desire, he soon finds a way to get the ball rolling by hooking up with some local hit men with all the right connections. Costello manages to enlist the hit men by offering to pay them everything he has, including his restaurant in Paris, and, perhaps against their better judgment, the hit men take a liking to Costello. As the movie unfolds, and the trail in pursuit of the killers heats up, Costello has a serious handicap: he is losing his memory (shades of MEMENTO?), and he has to snap Polaroid pictures of everyone he meets just in case he is later unable to remember with whom he is working, or why he is there in the first place.
The movie is not all bad, however. Director Johnnie To has a few surprises under his sleeve, and VENGEANCE thankfully goes beyond just being a standard shoot-’em-up Hong Kong police thriller, to something more. Whether it will matter enough to justify the time invested in watching it is up to the viewer, and how much they may like To’s style of filmmaking. The story is not complicated, but To manages to add a lyrical dimension with some plot nuances that are interesting and play well, even it renders the overall effect that much more absurd.
For example, one scene has opposing sides of a mafia gang rolling bales of garbage as giant shields while they jockey for position against each other in a rather whimsical imitation of an Akira Kurosawa epic battle. Another scene shows Costello crying out to God and then self-baptizing himself in the midst of one of his bouts of amnesia.
Johnny Hallyday, as a cross between Charles Bronson and Richard Boone, is credible and engaging by keeping his French accented lines to a minimum while sporting a stoic, stone face look with a tinge of pained humanity. Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Ka Tung Lam, and Suet Lam as the three hit men who go to work for Costello are, strangely enough, endearing. That is, as criminals go, and Simon Yam, as George Fung, the evil mafia boss, is barely adequate as a central casting mob boss.
Editing, photography, and music do a good job in supporting the story, and the rest of the cast is certainly acceptable. To’s lyricism and many positive elements, such as loyalty, honor, respect for women, children, and the defenseless, are commendable. Some of his cinematic less conventional ideas play very well, but on the other hand, the movie has a very graphic fornication scene, extreme gun violence and killing in the pursuit of revenge, making it very difficult to commend. To fallen human reasoning, vengeance is very appealing and satisfying, but God clearly calls for men not to take the law into their own hands, and as such VENGEANCE was never meant to be for Costello, or his daughter, but for the Lord.
Released late in 2009, VENGEANCE had a very brief, limited run in the United States and is now being presented on TV and DVD by IFC Films.
VENGEANCE is well made. It tries to go one step beyond the standard genre by introducing some lyrical elements and cinematography, such as epic battles, plus a religious conversion. Although an interesting experiment, it tries to pack too much into its story. As a result, in the end it turns out be a bit of a mess. Of course, the movie’s condones taking the law into one’s own hands is inconsistent with Biblical teaching. It also has a very graphic fornication scene and extreme gun violence. This content is excessive, rendering VENGEANCE unacceptable viewing.