Monday, July 29, 2013

Only God Forgives (2013)

Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok's criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother's recent death.

Written & Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)
Cinematography: Larry Smith (Eyes Wide Shut)
Starring: Ryan Gosling (Julian), Kristin Scott Thomas (Crystal), Vithaya Pansringarm (Chang)
Running Time: 90 mins
Language: English, Thai 

"Time to Meet The Devil"

Only God Forgives opens with an ominous score, like something bad's gonna happen, like someone's gonna get you & if that someone does it won't be pretty. And like with a twisted sense of humor, Nicolas Winding Refn gives us this destructive & violent criminal underworld with all the trappings of immorality effectively contrasted with a striking cinematography that makes even the darkest part of Bangkok surprisingly beautiful. Visually, I was bombarded with neon lights which I have enjoyed, and red hues which kinda made me feel claustrophobic - like I'm inside a DarkRoom, and lots of play on shadows & artistic shots. Then, aside from the visual feast, I was stimulated with a unique musical score that fits well with the movie's heightened sense of reality. With perfect visuals & musical score, it's so hard to take your eyes off the screen even with the scenes you wouldn't normally enjoy seeing.

I love Refn's overhead shots. This could be another symbol of the battle between good & evil. There is a similar shot later in the movie with Chang & Julian.

That out of the way, let's talk about the story and the characters. If you look behind the form, you would see a simple story of revenge & redemption, quite a straightforward plot in fact, but riddled with symbolism and messages that are conveyed mostly by non-verbals & meaningful shots. More than a revenge flick, it's also a story of a dysfunctional family, a society's concept of vengeance & justice, and a "protagonist's" quest to heal his wounds & look for love. More than a revenge film, this is actually a fairy tale..  a dark fairy tale as never been told before.

Ryan Gosling, the cutest baby goose ever, is actually a pleasure to look at because he was able to put to use his trademark dreamy face in this movie where he only has more or less 22 lines. Some may be put off with that, but for me it wasn't a problem at all. His expressions make up for his lack of dialogue and it's more than enough. Admittedly, sometimes I wanted to laugh at his slightly constipated look but that was just a fleeting emotion on my part. Most of the time I was reminded of Jack Nance (Eraserhead) and I could point a few scenes where I thought Ryan Gosling was channeling Henry. 

Kristin Scott Thomas who I truly adored in Four Weddings & a Funeral, plays Crystal, Julian's mother, head of a criminal organization, and ultimately the main reason why her sons are so messed up. Thomas steals every scene she's in, from the moment she walks into the hotel lobby bullying the poor receptionist up to her last scene. Barely recognizable yet as effective as she has been, Thomas is my favorite character in the movie. Her lines are memorable, her delivery is chilling, and her presence alone makes the slow pace of the movie exciting.  When Julian mentioned that his brother raped and killed a 16 year-old, Crystal, without batting an eyelash says, "I'm sure he had his reasons." That line is the perfect description of her parenting skillsShe's just bad to the bones. The ultimate bitch mother. Gasp. 

Lastly, we have Chang played by Vithaya Pansringarm, a wonderful addition to the cast. Aside from the character he plays, Pansringarm is notable because of his unassuming facade that changes everytime he has to exact justice. Chang is the most complex of all the characters in this film, his actions and his other-worldly aura makes him all the more interesting. He IS God. He metes out punishment with unflinching authority yet gives mercy to those who deserve it. And then he sings, soulfully may I add, like he's preaching to his people, or it could be a song of joy for redemption, that some people still could be saved. Things get more curious because with all the blood this movie has - Chang's clothes are as pristine as ever. Not one tiny speck of blood, not one hair ruffled, like he's from another world unpolluted by the trash of this world. Also, for a guy his age, he seems to have this uncanny strength/skill & an amazing "spider-sense". And where is his sword? No sheath on his back, and yet when it's time for punishment, he slowly grabs his sword from his back. So, is his character more literal than symbolic?  Is he literally the all-powerful God/Angel of Vengeance? His fight with Julian reminded me of biblical stories, where men provokes a fight with God and ultimately fail, particularly that story about Jacob and his dream that he was wrestling with an angel. I'm not sure why, it just reminded me of that.

There are a lot of scenes where Julian just stares at his hands, that's symbolic of his guilt and his sins. I do think that the hand is the film's symbol for sin, which Chang chops off if he forgives that person. At first, Julian's dream sequences annoyed me, but as the movie progressed I understood him. Julian is a troubled man. He is constantly degraded by his mother, which in the process, emasculates him at the same time making him all the more searching for his mother's "love" and approval. Crystal told Chang that when she had Julian she already knows that he's different. He is. Billy is evil like his mom, but Julian has a soul, yes it has been damaged, but deep inside he is good. Yes he has blood on his hands, and this movie is about his battle to finally redeem himself. To finally be free. To have his questionable & bleak "happily ever after." 
See how sweet Julian is? lol. I just love this shot.  How cute is the dog :)

The chemistry between Gosling & Thomas was so intense, that when they are in the same room you can actually feel the tension, be it sexual or anger towards each other. It's palpable. It's perfect. 

The Verdict: Only God Forgives is an arthouse film all throughout. It's slower than the usual slow films I've seen and that may irk most viewers, especially with the lack of dialogue. But Refn made it work. The slow-zooming hallway shots reminds me of The Shining, the unsettling vibe that I feel when he slowly zooms in on his characters is vaguely reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange. His execution just reeks of Kubrick & Lynch, even Bunuel, but he did add his own unique neo-noir flavor. The visuals & musical score will keep you glued to your seats while watching the horror in front of you, listening to what's not being said, and awaiting the fate of the characters. Next thing you know, the movie is over. And while others may run away as fast as they can & never looking back, there will also be some who is already looking forward to seeing it again. 

My Rating:  4/5

Crystal: So, tell me Mai, what is your line of work?
Mai: I'm an entertainer.
Crystal: An entertainer? And how many cocks can you entertain with that cute little cum-dumpster of yours?

The scene where he slashes his mother's stomach then reaching inside at first baffled me, why did he put his hand inside? The slashing & emotionless expression I get, deep inside he hates his mother, and this is the only time he could "tell" her how much he hates her. I guess, him reaching inside her womb, in my interpretation, is that he's looking, checking how such a woman could have a womb that gave birth to kids and could be so un-motherly.  Also, Crystal's incestuous relationship with her sons & her constant reiteration that Billy is BIGGER (in every sense of the word) than Julian, damaged both sons. Billy is a psychopathic sexual predator, & Julian has his own sets of issues. The hand-in-womb thing symbolizes him finally able to enter her, which as Crystal told Chang, her "relationship" with Billy has been a source of jealousy of Julian. Finally he is in power.

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  1. Wow!!! :) It is so nice to be able to comment again!!!! yay !!!!! :)

  2. it's nice to see my real blog as well haha and not that bland looking black and white thing -_-



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