August 5th, 2010 (11:16 pm)
current mood: amused
current song: Keepaway "Yellow Wings"
I missed most of the free movies during the Korean film fest at the Knowledgeum, a situation which I have tried to rectify with the Hong Kong film fest. I really like Hong Kong films. I like them because they are solid artistically and technically and because I don't get the impression that these films are culturally bound. By "culturally bound", I mean that the films don't rely much on culturally specific mores. If you've ever watched a Japanese movie with a person who has rarely ventured beyond mainstream American movies, you'll know what I mean. Case in point - the time I took my bro's GF and my soulmate to see "Sing A Song Of Sex", an Oshima film about which I never posted because even I, armchair japanthusiast, could barely make out what was going on. I'd never apologized for bringing someone to a film before that day. It was basically two hours of "what is this I don't even". It's not like that with Hong Kong films. You don't need a text book to enjoy them. I am quite sure that plenty of cultural anthropolists and film majors have analyzed the influence of colonialism on the Hong Kong film industry, so I'll leave the academia and enjoy the cool movies playing at the Knowledgeum this summer.
I will admit that I have a fairly romanticized fascination with the crime lords and organized crime syndicates of Asia, so I was quite certain I would enjoy "Vengeance" even if it sucked. "Vengeance", dear reader, did not suck. It stars French superstar singer Johnny Hallyday and a few solid Hong Kong actors you'll recognize if you've watched an HK gangster movie before. The movie starts simple - a woman cooking dinner while her husband and lovely sons are arriving home in the rain. Oh, and how the shit proceeds to hit the fan. Within the first five minutes of this film, the family is slaughtered by hitmen. The image of the father shot in the head when he checks the peephole is pretty gruesome but what's worse is that the details of the family's murders are drawn out into flashbacks throughout the first half of the film. You know, just in case you thought you would get to skip the scene where the children are killed. Okay, the short version - A family is murdered in a mob hit. The mother's father, Costello, comes from France to get his revenge. He claims he is just a chef, but his obvious street savvy make it clear that he was not always. He witnesses three hitmen entering the room next to his, hears some muffled gunshots (that would be the hitmen killing their employeer's ho and bodyguard during a tryst), and purposefully does not identify one of the three during a police line-up, thus earning himself a favor from the hitmen. He wants to hire them so that he can track down the people responsible for the hit on his daughter's family (the daughter is alive-ish at this point but has sustained very serious injuries. Oh, and she witnessed her children's deaths, so she isn't exactly fighting hard to live). Costello points out that he is at a total disadvantage, a white man who doesn't speak or read the language and who has no contacts in the local crime scene. He offers the three everything he has - his home, his restaurant, his fancy watch, and a thick roll of bills. He needs information and guns. The three agree, so Costello takes polaroids of them to help him remember their faces. He keeps a stack of photos, all labeled, because he is losing his memory. The rest of the movie is mostly gun fights. Gun fights, gun fights, gun fights. Turns out the hit was put on Costello's family by George (or was it Gary?) Fung, the local Triad boss. Fung is also the main employer of Costello's three helpers. The three meet their ends when Fung learns that they were responsible for killing Costello's daughter's hitmen. This gun fight is particularly cinematic. It takes place in a garbage dump but in the style of a Chinese historical epic. It's difficult to explain but if you've seen a Chinese historical epic where one side makes a maze of obstacles to trap their opponents and the maze-makers' general sits on a high platform to observe the battle as it unfolds - wait, never mind. That's what it was. Anyway, the three die in a blaze of glory. Costello, thoughtfully left to recover from a gunshot to the shoulder with one of the three's side piece, has almost completely lost his memory. After a few days living with the side piece and her gaggle of children at their beach shack, the group learns of the deaths of the three from a news program. The side piece tells him he should be sad, too, because those three men where his friends. That night, Costello wakes up and walks down into the moon-bright water to follow his daughter, now magically uninjured. Then he sees that she is joined by his dead friends and realizes that she too has died. She cradles his face and he weeps. Next scene is Fung enjoying lunch somewhere picturesque. A sexy woman is drinking coffee at a nearby table. They eye-flirt a bit and he plays nice when a little kid comes up to him selling flag stickers for a fundraiser. Soon, more kids descend and Fung is covered in stickers. The woman smiles one last time and stand up from her table, revealing her mega pregnant belly. Chuckles all around. Turns out it was the side piece and her brood. Costello trades her a baby for a revolver and tells him that he wants to kill the one with all the stickers. Though Costello manages to get a few good shots, Fung is wearing a bulletproof vest. Watching him rage blindly after the man with the stickers on his coat as he chases Fung from a crowded square to a deserted side street is almost unbearably tense. I've never witnessed the Knowledgeum's theater as quiet as it was during that scene. Fung is slippery, though, and manages to evade Costello for a surprisingly long time. He realizes it's the stickers giving him away, so he puts a bunch on a henchman and chucks his coat. But he won't escape. Costello's memory is soft but he resolve to seek revenge is firm. When he does finally catch Fung, the man is hiding behind a van, quaking. And Costello doesn't just put a bullet in Fung's head. He is so determined to kill the man responsible for all of his heartache that it's clear he cannot be stopped under any circumstances. First, he wounds Fung badly enough to make it impossible for him to run away. Costello roars at him, makes him put the coat back on so he can check that the bulletholes in the coat match the holes in his shirt. And then a single sticker caught on Fung's tie confirms his identity. Bam. The next scene is Costello back at the beach shack. The kids are called for dinner. Costello picks up the littlest girl and carries her with him to the table.
Johnny Hallyday was not the first Frenchman considered for "Vengeance", but I think he was the right choice. There's so much sadness in his face and voice. His face in particular has that flesh mask quality that comes after a horrific motorcycle accident or from too many face lifts. But it works in this film for this character. The scene when he is walking into the surf trying to reach the souls of his departed family and friends is beautifully heart-wrenching. I've seen enough asian movies by now that I go into every one expecting to see all of the main characters die. I've been surprised recently, though. I didn't expect the three hitmen to die (well, not so soon) and didn't expect Costello to live. That totally blew my mind. And the fact that Costello was at peace and maybe even happy at the end... I'm pretty sure that's against the rules. There were a couple of clumsy spots, specifically the gun fight in the woods. But overall I really enjoyed it.
Ugh, can't concentrate, too many filnobep videos to watch... Tag laterrrrr