Friday, November 28, 2014

Vengeance (2009 film)

Directed by Johnnie To and written by Wai Ka-Fai, Vengeance is the story of a former gangster who learns that his family has been attacked by a triad gang as he travels to Macau with three hitmen to help him get revenge. The film is a simple tale of revenge as it plays into the world of triad culture and influences in Asia. Starring Johnny Hallyday, Anthony Wong, Lam Ka-Tung, Lam Suet, Simon Yam, and Sylvie Testud. Vengeance is an evocatively stylish yet intensely powerful film from Johnnie To.

Following the attack of a French woman and her family in Macau, a former gangster who has reinvented himself as a chef goes to the city to avenge the attack on his daughter as he hires three hitmen to aid him. While it’s a premise that is simple and could be told in a very conventional manner. It’s a film that plays more into a man who is trying to find redemption as he hires these three professional killers who part of a triad gang as they learn that the job they’re asked to do would have complications involving the men they’re targeting and who they work for. Adding to the turmoil is the fact that the Frenchman known as Francis Costello (Johnny Hallyday) is losing his memory as he uses Polaroid pictures as reminders of who is friend and who is foe.

Wai Ka-Fai’s screenplay does have a traditional structure in the way it explores vengeance where its first act is about the attack on Francis’ daughter Irene (Sylvie Testud) as Francis sees the work of three hitmen who had just killed with wife of a renowned triad leader in George Fung (Simon Yam) under Fung’s orders. The script uses flashbacks of what had happened as the hitmen who are hired to work with Costello have an indication of how things happened. Though these three men in Kwai (Anthony Wong), Fay Lok (Lam Suet), and Chu (Lam Ka-Tung) who are professionals who will do jobs for money and whatever they’re asked for by their boss. They are men of morals as they know on what not to do which is something the men that attacked Irene and her family aren’t. A showdown does occur in the second act but once it becomes clear who these men are and who they’re working for. Complications begin to emerge which adds to some of the dramatic stakes of the film’s third act.

Johnnie To’s direction is very stylish in not just the way he presents the world of crime and gunplay as it’s set in Macau and in Hong Kong. It’s also in the way the impact of the film’s violence that helps drive the story as it opens up with this very innocent scene of Irene cooking as her husband and their two children come home getting ready for dinner. Then comes this moment where a break-in occurs as Irene and her family are attacked as it’s swift and intense. To’s approach to action and suspense is very slow yet deliberate as it would include some amazingly choreographed gunplay in the showdowns such as the first showdown involving Costello and the hitmen against the three men involved in the hit on Irene and her family. It’s among one of several sequences where To’s direction has this flow in the way the action is presented that feels very poetic in its rhythm and scope.

Much of the direction involve some elaborate uses of crane shots to capture the look of Hong Kong and Macau as well as scenes where To uses a lot of wide shots as well as some compositions in the way he would frame his actors in a shot. While in the dramatic moments, there is an intimacy in To’s approach to close-ups and medium shots as well as scenes that play into the suspense such as the lead-up to the first show down that is set in a park at night. Even in the set-ups of the hits that are unveiled showcase how efficient and professional these characters are as To uses a lot of stylistic shots to play into the set-ups and momentum as it would have this major pay off. Overall, To creates a very thrilling yet exhilarating film about a man who joins three hitmen to seek vengeance for his daughter’s near-fatal attack.

Cinematographer Cheng Siu-Keung, with additional contributions from Hung Mo To, does brilliant work with the film‘s stylish cinematography from its usage of colorful lighting in some of the nighttime location scenes as well as the use of shadows and lights for some interior and exterior scenes at night as it is among one of the film‘s highlights. Editor David M. Richarson does fantastic work with the editing with its rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s flashback sequences as well as these intricate slow-motion cuts and fast-paced cuts to play into the action as it has this air of poetry that is entrancing to watch. Art director Silver Cheung does superb work with the set pieces from the look of the home of Irene in its destroyed state as well as the ragged home of Kwai‘s cousin on the outskirts of the Macau.

Costume designer Stanley Cheung does nice work with the costumes from the lavish clothes that the women wear to the suit that Costello wears along with the clothes of the men including the triad men. Visual effects supervisor Ken Law does terrific with some of the minimal visual effects that involve some of the film‘s violent moments as well as the showdown at the park at night. Sound editor Martin Richard Chappell does excellent work with the sound from the layer of gunfire that occurs in the gunfights to the sounds that happens in the many locations as it help plays to the film‘s suspense and action. The film’s music by Lo Tayu is incredible for its mixture of jazz, electronic, and bombastic orchestral music to play into the drama and suspenseful moments in the film.

The film’s phenomenal cast includes notable small roles from Maggie Shiu as a police inspector trying to solve the case, Vincent Sze as Irene’s husband, Gwendolyn Chen as Fung’s wife, and Michelle Ye as a pregnant friend of Kwai who would watch over Costello late in the film as his memory loss becomes severe. In the roles of the three men who did the attack on Irene and her family, there’s Cheung Siu-Fai, Berg Ng, and Felix Wong in superb performances as they each display a very dark presence as three men who find themselves being confronted as they manage to be formidable opponents for Costello and his men. Sylvie Testud is wonderful as Costello’s daughter Irene who is severely wounded from the attack as she asks for her father to get revenge.

Simon Yam is excellent as the triad boss George Fung who runs a lot of the crime syndicates in Macau and Hong Kong as he is a man with no sense of moral nor any sense of remorse. In the roles of the three hitmen, Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, and Lam Ka-Tung are brilliant in their respective roles as the intelligent Kwai, the comical yet dangerous Fay Lok, and the chameleon yet cool Chu. Finally, there’s Johnny Hallyday in a remarkable performance as Francis Costello as this former gangster who reinvented himself as a chef as he tries to get revenge for his daughter’s near-fatal attack while coping with his own memory loss that becomes very severe as the film progresses as it’s a very quiet yet engaging performance from Hallyday.

Vengeance is a tremendously gripping and rapturous film from Johnnie To. Armed with a great cast, a compelling script by Wai Ka-Fai on the idea of vengeance, and some amazing technical work. The film is truly one of the most riveting and stylish presentation in the crime film genre. In the end, Vengeance is a magnificent film from Johnnie To.

© thevoid99 2014

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