Release Date: 2013
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Why I picked this: “Drive” part 2?
Beautiful yet somewhat empty; this film is pretty to look at one moment, and miserable the next. Like the previous Nicolas Winding Refn/Ryan Gosling team-up “Drive,” this film features long silences and brutal violence; however, while I felt that in “Drive,” the silence and violence complemented the story, I felt the inverse for “Only God Forgives,” as if each scene was an excuse for some sort of stylistic sequence or violent scene, rarely furthering character or story development. This Thailand-set crime thriller follows Julian, played by Ryan Gosling, who heads a boxing club that is in reality the cover-up for a drug smuggling operation; his brother is killed after raping and killing a 16-year old prostitute, spurring a visit from their mother Crystal, played by Kristen Scott Thomas. The killing of Julian’s brother is orchestrated by Lieutenant Chang, played by Vithaya Pansringarm; Chang has a very strong and brutal sense of justice, leaving no crime or misdeed go unpunished; this makes for some of the more brutal scenes in this film. Surprisingly, Gosling’s Julian really isn’t the main focus here; all three of these central characters had about the same time as each other. However, out of the three, Thomas’s Crystal was really the only character who felt truly “alive.” Manipulative, blunt, angry, and selfish, Crystal can be seen as the “Devil” out of the three characters. Chang probably speaks the least out of the three (but sings the most); he has a very rigid code of morals and appears to be unfazed and lacks any remorse for his violent punishments; yet after committing these acts, he is seen calmly singing karaoke at the same bar, as if it is some source of solace or cleansing. His subordinate police officers spectate in silence and respect, as though Chang were some sort of deity to them; throughout the film, he has a very unreal presence. I found little substance in Gosling’s character, though. Unlike his Driver character in “Drive,” I couldn’t see the gears churning in his head; I couldn’t tell what his “game” was. He appears to have a conscience, sparing the man who committed the murder of his brother, along with another life near the end of the film, but I never understood the few instances in which he showed rage, such as when he snapped at Mai, his prostitute companion, or when out of nowhere, he calmly challenges Chang to a fight. His character came across as outright pathetic at points, which was probably intentional, despite the character’s attempt to appear hard-edged. The film has a very nice style, using shadows and very harsh colors, such as red and orange; we also get very nice symmetrical shots of characters from up front. This film successfully creates an image of a dark and somewhat slimy part of Bangkok. There are many sequences that are edited in a bizarre fashion, such as the first with Julian and May, or a scene near the end where Chang uses his sword; there are also some actions by characters that are just completely unexplained. These add a sort of abstract quality to the film, but unlike other films with such elements, this may not be one where you are invested enough to speculate on what has happened. Like myself, you may be boggled by the ending of the film; I found myself wondering what in the world I had just seen.
Slow, quiet, and lacking in some character development, this film is not easy to watch; however, with more thought on the themes and visuals, you may get something out of it.