What's it about?
An American drug dealer living in Bangkok is sent into the criminal underworld by his domineering mother to seek revenge for the murder of his brother. Bloody, stylish, straight-faced chaos ensues.
Who would I recognise in it?
Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Tom Burke.
I recently posted my thoughts on Nicolas Winding Refn's latest film - The Neon Demon - and found it to be extraordinarily stylish and obsessed with obtuse symbolism, but I was disappointed by how it sought to dispense with as much plot, story, characterisation, and redemption as possible (and it was decidedly over-long at an indulgent two hours). So I figured it was time I caught up with Only God Forgives, the film that sits between TND and Refn's 2011 film Drive (a richly textured, yearning, ultra cool modern classic). Where, I wondered, would it fall on the scale between those two films...
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Fortunately, OGF is closer to Drive than it is to The Neon Demon. Clocking in at 90 minutes means the film is pleasingly efficient for the most part, it's soaked in gorgeous neon hues, and not only is there a plot, but there is plenty of subtextual story, and the characterisation is clear and crisp.
Julian (Gosling), has an Oedipus complex - to put it mildly. Quivering with restraint over his urges (both sexual and violent), he seeks to evade the brutal requirements of his job - getting his hands dirty - and pines for redemption by any extreme method. So, when he refuses to take 'appropriate action' in avenging his brother's death (who was killed for bloody good reason), his mother (Thomas) isn't best pleased. This gangland matriarch exudes perversion with a propensity for tongue-lashing humiliation, as ruthless as the film's antagonist - the looming figure in the police force (Pansringarm) - a sword-swinging dispenser of street justice while wearing a badge.
Style wise, Only God Forgives is on strong ground - visually and aurally (synthwave, ahoy!), it is impressive. However, the film is not for the faint of heart, nor for those seeking any glimmer of levity. Smirks, never mind smiles, are rarer than fist-sized diamonds in this film - here you can see the seeds of how The Neon Demon came to take itself sooooo seriously - and the despicable actions of these despicable characters leave the viewer bruised, battered, and in need of a cuddle. Drive made the viewer feel like the coolest person on earth, and while OGF's behind the scenes footage shows there was plenty of levity during production, the film itself is cold like the core of a glacier.
It may look pretty, but Only God Forgives leaves you yearning for the blood-spattered heart of Drive as it dishes out an exceedingly dark and sadistic pummelling. If you're in the right mood for it, and strong in will and stomach, you'll find plenty to intrigue. Good.