Sunday, December 13, 2009

446) Vengeance (2009)

446) Vengeance (2009) Dir: Johnnie To Not Yet Released Date Seen: December 13, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

If any one thing can be blamed for Vengeance's shortcomings, it's screenwriting guru Wai Ka-Fai's script. The material he gives genre wunderkind Johnnie To is wildly uneven, selectively collapsing when it comes to fleshing out the character-defining nuances of its protagonist, Francis Costello (Johnny Hallyday, a poor stand-in for Alain Delon if ever there was one), an old frog lost in Hong Kong in search of his daughters' murderers. Costello's name positions him as an homage to Delon's character in Jean-Pierre Melville's formative Le Samourai (1967). In Melville's film, Costello is a young, good-looking loner with an arcane system of self-discipline; in To's film, Costello is an older man fallen out of practice now turning to an older system of belief dependent on bonhomie amongst amoral badmen. Like in To's Exiled (2006), that code has roots in Peckinpahsian man-logic: if you shoot things and break bread, you are as good as brothers. Wai looks to defy that old-world logic, which makes sense in Exiled considering that it marks the end of an era in Macau's history, by having the posse of guns (To's usual bunch, Suet Lam, Anthony Wong and Ka Tun Lam) Costello hires to find the killers relate to the hired hands that did the killing as family men and mercenaries, just like them. But when push comes to shove, they have at it anyway: spilled blood is spilled blood, period.

Similarly, Wai doesn't spend enough time properly developing much of what makes the conflict of ideologies that defines Costello so complex. Costello only shows debilitating signs of bullet-induced amnesia halfway through the movie, effectively clobbering the viewer with what looks like a sudden, prolonged senior moment rather than an extension of Costello's ailing worldview. Another scene, one that shows his newfound brothers of the holster fighting for him by proxy, is too on the nose in its images of a fight in a scrap heap. It's the end of an era--now with trash cubes serving as over-sized tumbleweeds! To's choreography is never in doubt and his skill at turning his acute sense of play into arresting shoot-outs doesn't fail him. But I wish that when Costello gets the last word and declares, "This is your jacket," that I could appreciate it on an emotional level.

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