Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Movie a Day, Day 87: Vengeance

"What does revenge mean when you've forgotten everything?" asks one of the triad hit men enlisted by Costello (Johnny Hallyday), a retired French gangster, to avenge the slaughter of his daughter's family in Macao. That question is never answered, making the subplot about Costello's failing memory feel more like a gimmick than a theme: This isn't a film that inspires deep thought. But the camerawork, the lighting, the colors, and especially the carefully choreographed dances of death are so good they make Vengeance worth watching.

Johnny To's trademark standoffs are the best thing about Vengeance, which came out last year after premiering at Cannes and has just been released in the U.S. (It's available only on IFC's Movies on Demand channel.) Often slowed down, underlit, and color-saturated to increase the drama, his gun battles generally start by dramatizing the conflict with a vivid scene or image and end with hard guys in close quarters, blasting the crap out of each other. The one that will probably stick with me longest from Vengeance starts at a picnic ground where Costello and his crew have tracked down the men they are hunting. Finding their targets with their wives and kids, our guys settle into a neighboring table and wait for the families to leave. The other men know why they're there, but their families have no idea. Then a colorful boomerang floats into view, travelling to Costello's table from the table they're watching and back again. It's a beautiful sight and a powerful symbol, making visible the link between the two tables while reminding us of the child who threw it, whose carefree world is about to explode. Read the rest on The House Next Door, Slant Magazine's blog.

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