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The Warsaw Voice » World of Movies » June 27, 2013
Film review
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Only God Forgives
June 27, 2013   
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Bangkok has become popular in recent years as the setting for blood-and-guts action movies. Examples include Bangkok Dangerous (2008) where a hitman played by Nicholas Cage kills his adversaries by the dozen in a variety of imaginative ways. If this kind of entertainment rocks your boat, you are sure to like the latest movie by Danish director and screenwriter Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising, Drive) who, hailed by both viewers and critics, has built himself a solid fan base around the world. His narrative style as a director is often compared to that of Quentin Tarantino and many praise the visual side of his offerings, raving about the classy cinematography. In Only God Forgives, Bangkok is only filmed at night, as if to suggest the sun never shines on the world depicted in the movie.

The movie dips a toe in several genres, but is above all a violent action film. Murderers take revenge on murderers and then more avengers show up. The movie has been given the highest age restriction, hardly surprising seeing as Refn has made naturalistic scenes of cruelty, pain and death his trademark. In this respect, Refn and Tarantino have a lot in common, but it is probably more accurate to compare Refn’s work to the samurai and yakuza flicks of Takeshi Kitano.

It’s not easy to identify the main character in Only God Forgives. At first it appears to be Julian (Ryan Gosling—Drive, The Ides of March, Fracture), who once killed a policeman and has lived in the Bangkok underworld for a decade. The martial arts club he manages seems to be a cover for his drug-dealing business. Julian hardly ever speaks and is haunted by nightmares. His emotional problems could stem from his troubled relationship with his mother Crystal (Kristin Scott-Thomas—The English Patient, Random Hearts, Four Weddings and a Funeral). The Oedipus complex theme is quite pronounced in Only God Forgives, as there seems to be a deeper, perverse meaning to almost every dialogue between mother and son.

The dominant mother has her own ties to the crime scene somewhere in the West. She arrives in Bangkok after her other son is murdered. He had it coming after he brutally killed an underage prostitute, but Crystal orders the surviving brother to take revenge on the killers. Crime and murder spiral out of control.

A former police officer named Chang (Vithaya Pansrigarm—a Thai actor little known outside Asia) plays a major albeit mysterious role in the unfolding plot. Known as the Angel of Vengeance, he becomes the central character in the second half of the movie.

Refn has hinted in interviews that Chang is a symbolic reincarnation of One Eye, the mute and half-blind Scandinavian warrior charismatically played by Mads Mikkelsen in Valhalla Rising. A director has a right to elaborate on where he looked for inspiration, but this eccentric theory seems to be a little far-fetched given what we see on the screen. One way or another, fans of Refn’s distinctive style will not be disappointed.
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