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November 18, 2010

Vengeance

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Fuk Sau
Johnny To - 2009
IFC Region 1 DVD

Until I had read this posting by Kimberly Lindbergs, I had no idea that Alain Delon was Johnny To's first choice to star in Vengeance. That To is a fan of Delon, particularly the films he did with Jean-Pierre Melville, will be no surprise to the who have read To's list of favorite films from the Criterion Collection. The character that Johnny Hallyday plays in Vengeance is named Francois Costello. Delon portrayed a hit man named Jef Costello. Did To hope for Delon to play a continuation of the same character? There is the possible suggestion that the two fictional characters are related, not only because of the shared family name, but also because To's Costello runs a restaurant in Paris called "Les Freres" (The Brothers).

Vengeance is still very much a Johnny To film, even with a French star shooting it up in Macau and Hong Kong. If you want to see a film much closer in spirit to Melville, let me suggest Donnie Yen's Ballistic Kiss with its brooding hit man. Aside from Hallyday, and Sylvie Testud as his daughter, the rest of the cast includes To's usual crew including Simon Yam, Anthony Wong Chau-sang, and the incomparable Lam Suet. The basic story is not too much of a variation on To's explorations of male camaraderie and loyalty.

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Costello comes from Paris to Macau after his daughter and her family have been shot by unknown gun men. The daughter, Irene, is the only survivor. From her hospital bed, she asks her father to take revenge on her behalf. Costello enlists three Chinese hit men, encountering them the kind of coincidence that could only happen in the movies. Ignoring some of the contrived situations that bring the characters together is made easier by some of the visual pleasures of Vengeance. Demonstrating his ability with a gun, Costello and the gang shoot at a bicycle seemingly propelled by the blaze of bullets nudging it forward. There is also a big gun battle outside a garbage dump, with both sides protecting themselves with huge bales of newspaper, push forward like giant blocks, appearing almost like large, crude mechanical devices from a distance, the flying paper debris adding an other worldly touch.

Costello is on the verge of losing his memory. He takes photos of his team to remember who they are, with their names on each Polaroid. Some of the implications of Costello's memory loss are not explored as deeply as they could have been. Johnny To's visual bravura usually succeeds even when Wai Ka-Fai's screenplay elides all manner of questions and plot holes. To seems to be borrowing from himself in a scene where Hallyday gets lost in a rainy night in Hong Kong, surrounded by scores of people with black umbrellas, a scene similar to one in To's far better Sparrow. Several scenes also revolve around eating, with Costello cooking a meal for his new Chinese friends, and a confrontation between rivals taking place at a barbecue. In a Johnny To film, you can almost count on the gang, if they are not going to shoot each, getting together around the dining table.

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Posted by peter at November 18, 2010 06:55 AM

Comments

I absolutely love this movie!

Posted by: Elgart at November 19, 2010 10:51 PM

Really lame product placement of pasta sauce in that cooking scene you have a still from! I agree Sparrow was far better.

My theory about that rather camp scene with the bales is it's a p*ss-take of the recent Chinese epics that flounce about with grand martial strategy & vast swarms of Red Army extras (Battle of Wits et al). Simon Yam directing his goons from a scaffold dais, instead of Takeshi Kaneshiro directing CGI fire ships.

The normally hyperactive JT seems to have gone quiet after this, so hopefully he's re-charging flat batteries and will come back strong with another PTU or Election.

Posted by: Bunta Sugawara at December 2, 2010 06:46 PM