By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
Hey, you’re an action fan, right? Why am I even asking- of course you are. Because you are awesome. And since you are so awesome, you totally know who Johnnie To is, don’t you.
The Hong Kong action master has been churning out stellar action films (and quite a few other genre flicks to boot) for almost 25 years, but in that entire 55-strong filmography, Vengeance is his first English-language movie. Even then, he had to get a Frenchman (Johnny Hallyday) to star as the ex-hitman turned chef who comes to Hong Kong to avenge the murder of his daughter and grandchildren. He enlists the help of three other hitmen to help him find the killers… and the mob boss who ordered their murders. One complication… he’s losing his memory.
If you’ve been asking why nobody makes muscular, realistic 90s-style action like Die Hard or Hard Boiled anymore, the answer is… Johnnie To does! Vengeance, and most of his films, are all squibs, blood packs, and muzzle flashes, no CGI Syfy Channel bullshit here.
All CGI blood is Syfy blood.
To does much more than stage spectacular action sequences (my favorite- the trash bale field battle; hard to explain, but you’ll know it when you see it… so fucking badass). He has an eye for beautiful, evocative moments beyond just violent spectacle, such as the scene of Hallyday praying on the beach over the course of a full day, even as the tide engulfs him and moonlit night falls.
The acting all around is strong- mostly of the stoic badass variety, but Hallyday, who’s known as the French Elvis, by the way, gets to show more dimensions than that. He’s world-weary, jaded by a life of experiences like this, but still has traces of joie de vivre left in the face of this tragedy and the impending erasure of his consciousness.
Choke on that, Costner!
The humor’s a bit broad and slapsticky, but it’s not bad enough for a beer itself. Even more head-scratching are some of these professional hitmen’s decisions. How long do you think you’d last in the hitman business if you made a habit of letting photographs with your name on them circulate (no matter how cool the later scene with them is)?
Even more confusing are Hallyday’s three hired hitmen’s motivations. When they find out his memory’s getting worse and worse, after they’ve already dispatched the men with his family’s actual blood on its hands, what’s to stop them from Tom Arnolding poor Johnny and telling him the boss is dead, saving pretty much everyone involved a lot of pain and suffering? Even if there’s some honor among thieves, surely there’s not this much.
A lot of the plot starts to unravel like this when you poke at it too strongly. Of course, that’s far from unique for the genre, but a good rule of thumb is to take a drink whenever you raise an eyebrow.
While maybe it’s not as much of an art film as its Cannes In Competition bow would suggest, Vengeance is still a Grade A revenge yarn with enough gorgeously shot action to satisfy any genre fan.
Take a Drink: for every execution. Raise your glass first if it’s a good guy or innocent.
Take a Drink: whenever “vengeance” is written or spoken in any language.
Take a Drink: whenever somebody shoots through a door
Take a Drink: for polaroids
Take a Drink: whenever somebody cooks
Do a Shot: for a bullet in the ass