If you’ve been following Japan Cinema for awhile, the name Johnnie To should ring familiar. He is a director with whom a lot of his films end up before my eyes for one reason or another. He’s not necessarily a good director, and his films are usually lackluster, so I couldn’t give you an explanation as to why I keep revisiting his body of work. Vengeance is The film is filled with plot holes but have plenty of good visual ideas which means this film is, you guessed it, a hate it or love it movie. Costello travels to Hong Kong after his daughter’s family is murdered. His daughter barely survives and demands revenge. After some meager attempts Costello realizes he needs locals to help him out, so when he runs into the group run by Anthony Wong he hires them to do the job for him.
With a film named Vengeance, you already know revenge is the name of the game. Also, expect several scenes without any dialog, as To wants the audience to watch the body language, so as to do the interpretation themselves. Those sitting on the fence will wonder what the fuss is about with this film being part of the official selection at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. I, too, was scratching my head but after seeing this film I know that if you think that all Hong Kong thrillers are the same, Vengeance is something new that you can look at.
I smell change coming already, and let’s hope it really does with Vengeance being that small step taken in the right direction. These types of films will never garner a perfect grade from me, so I do not expect such superiority, so my marks are justified. Johnny To likes to concentrate on style. The stories are primal, the characters are archetypes. Unfortunately, it relies on extraordinary coincidences making suspension of disbelief impossible.
I think an affinity for crime films is usually helpful in enjoying crime films. Perhaps that is why To films are such an acquired taste. Seriously though, the man puts out so many movies that I still haven’t caught up with all of them. The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, however, cites it as a standout of the festival thus far, calling it “a brilliantly directed genre study from the Hong Kong master Johnnie To” and noting that “With his ruined face and pale snake eyes Mr. Hallyday holds the screen while Mr. To shakes it up.” I guess I agree as I am currently hunting down more To movies as we speak, so this film did something right.