Monday, September 2, 2013

Review: Only God Forgives

Copyright: Radius-TWC
Independent artistic vision, no matter how convoluted or hermetic it may become, is a good thing in the movie industry. Nicolas Winding Refn is one of people that possesses this kind of vision, mainly because of his unique stance on filmmaking, especially the idea of linear storytelling. I respect his talent, but I don’t like all of his movies.

I enjoyed Valhalla Rising because of its depiction of human brutality in the context of nature that doesn’t care about humans any more than it cares about the trees and the rocks. His next movie Drive was a complete disappointment for me – unlike Valhalla Rising, this film was set in modern day Los Angeles, or in other words – reality. 
Refn’s tendency to make his characters autistic and hard (or impossible) to empathies with, made this setting a problem. By making things look real, I feel that the audience had a reference point that could be used to gauge their decisions and actions to other real persons or situations. This made them even more odd and unnaturally strange, and for me blunted the ideas Refn tried to present.

In his new movie, the setting is changed again– temporally, it’s the present day, but Only God Forgives takes place in Thailand. Fortunately, Refn’s Thailand isn’t a real county, more a projection of one. Here, Ryan Goosling plays Julian, a American drug smuggler that runs a cover operation in the form of a Muay Thai boxing club. His older, disturbed brother is killed one day, after he himself killed a prostitute. Soon after, his overbearing mother travels to the country, keen on revenge.

Using very few words, accompanied by strange visions, both sexual and violent, Julian navigates the surreal world of crime, love and family. His archenemy, a sword wielding Thai police chief, is an even more distant figure, looming in the background. All the while, imaginary Bangkok, with its bright neon lights, crowded streets and alleys, witnesses the story as a silent overseer.

Here, Refn presents a bright cinematic vision that focuses more on colors than on dialogs. Only God Forgives reminded me in some parts to the fantastic Enter the Void, especially the idea of western characters that spiritually travels in the metaphysical Far east. Julian is a stranger, bond by his loyalty to a family he didn’t choose, but at the same time drawn to the ideas of justice and wisdom that his new homeland enforces. The clash of the two domains in him is bloody and painful, but at the same time, as I understood it, liberating.

Only God Forgives is a beautify, engaging work, that just like the character of the quiet police chief in the movie, demands meditative acceptance before rational understanding.

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