Asian cinema is often misunderstood completely. Suffering from a foreign identity crisis, we often lump it into the ‘weird and whacky’ category because of what we’ve heard from our friends that have visited China or Japan that couldn't make sense of what they were seeing. Couple that with the game show videos we see on YouTube late on a bored Friday night and the layman has no idea what to think of it all. Revenge: A Love Story is their most recent contribution to extreme cinema. It’s an area that as Westerners we’ve tried to emulate and better, to mixed results (some of the worst being the Saw films and Hostel) with only Indonesia managing to do it properly with The Raid. A crime story told in a very violent fashion, the greatest trick Revenge pulls is holding us to the very end.
One afternoon a pregnant woman comes home and is surprised at what she finds waiting for her. We can’t see what she’s looking at but it’s clearly terrifying. A man comes home expecting to have his wife greet him at the door in the same house but his calls of “Honey? Honey?” trail off into nothingness. A man appears from behind and proceeds to strangle him to death, the most notable factor about this is we witness the entire event from point of impact to the last gasp for air. There’s a nod to the Coen Brothers there one could rightly argue but it still holds its own.
From here we learn that cops are being killed and we can only blame the man we saw earlier. There’s a few bumbling police missteps that seem to be taken from the last season of Dexter but after the first chapter everything changes. I don’t want to spoil it here but we’re introduced to a great back-story that keeps this film away from a lot of other hard-boiled crime films that look like long episodes of SVU.
The violence here is either 'Shocking' or 'Not A Big Deal', depending on your own exposure to the genre. There’s some incredibly bloody moments and brutal violence and heavy torture that transcends everything around it but it’s a quiet, helpless moment that has the most impact. Sola Aoi plays Wing, a smart-ass girl that’s all froth and bubble. There’s a rescue moment by the protagonist Kit (a great Juno Mak) and when they recover at a prostitute’s house after the extension of an olive branch, there’s a moment of confusion by a drunk cop that results in the most god-awful moment ever. It’s not used to merely shock the audience and avoids any kind of pornographic connotation (though you’d have to be the worst kind of sicko to think such a thing) but shows us exactly how Kit is feeling – the very epitome of helpless.
This isn’t shock for shock’s sake. Being a film within the extreme cinema genre, there are genre expectations of course but director Ching-Po Wong offers us a surprising depth that a lot of these films lack. In Revenge, the bad guy avoids being one particular brand of cop or criminal but instead seems to be masculinity. (I use that term very loosely with purely negative connotations.) The moment before they bring Wing in for questioning the men are sitting around and talking about their sex lives in a particularly crude fashion with the general consensus being that women equal sex. This isn’t James Joyce but street at its finest, everything kept down and dirty where it was born. A few critics have complained (and often do) about extreme cinema and its consequential portrayal of unjustifiable violence. In regards to this film they got it wrong – with this scene in mind and the resulting rape, how can one not go on a killing spree?
I’ll avoid spoiling anything further as I’ve said too much already but this is a great film that I recommend to anyone that fancies a little violence in their cinema. Wong holds us in till the end with a fantastically shot and edited action piece that doesn’t forget plot or good dialogue. I’ve already organised a playdate with a friend to watch this and I hope you do too.
Extras – big behind the scenes featurette impresses but when there’s no director commentary you do feel a little short changed. There’s a couple of trailers thrown in for good measure but if you’re like me you don’t care about such a thing. This was reviewed on DVD.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire
Director – Ching-Po Wong
Writer – Juno Mak, Ching-Po Wong
Starring – Juno Mark, Sola Aoi
Revenge: A Love Story is out now in Australia through Madman’s Eastern Eye division on DVD, in the UK through Terror Cotta and in the US through Lark Films.