Review: VENGEANCE 復仇 (2009) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Review: VENGEANCE 復仇 (2009)

Review: VENGEANCE 復仇 (2009)

French chef Costello (Johnny Hallyday) arrives in Macau after a team of mob hitmen, Wolf (Eddie Cheung), Python (Felix Wong) and Crow (Ng Ting-Yip) gunned down his daughter Irene (Sylvie Testud), her Chinese husband, and their two sons. But Irene has miraculously survived the hit and asks her father to exact vengeance for her slain family. So he wanders around Macau, looking for possible information about those who responsible for the hit but to no avail. Until one day he happens to chance upon a trio of hitmen, comprised of Kwai (Anthony Wong), Chu (Lam Ka-Tung) and Fay Lok (Lam Suet) after stumbling onto a hit in a hotel for their mobster boss George Fung (Simon Yam). He pays them a moderate amount of money and a restaurant in Paris, the three hitmen are more than happy to help them track down the killers. Unfortunately, there's a setback for Costello himself: He reveals that he has a bullet lodged in his brain from his old hitman days that slowly causing his memory slowly fade away. In order to remember what he's doing in Macau all the while, he has to rely on a set of Polaroid pictures as part of his memory aids.

REVIEW: Typical Johnnie To movie. That's pretty much sum up for his highly-anticipated first foray into Western-financed filmmaking co-produced by France's ARP Selection. On the bright side, VENGEANCE is a fairly entertaining revenge thriller that has To's vintage trademark stamped everywhere. The bad news is To's decision for seemingly toning down his unique filmmaking style in favour to cater Western audiences has no doubt turned his supposedly ambitious movie into a more half-baked effort.

It's kind of disappointing that To doesn't even attempt to try anything new here, other than recycling the same old themes about professional killers that he has explored all the better in THE MISSION (1999) and EXILED (2006). It almost seems as if the plot here, written by Wai Ka-Fai, prefers to move the plot in a pedestrian way possible. Despite exploring interesting themes of memory loss ala MEMENTO-style, the topic alone bears any further exploration other than just a mere glance. In short, this movie is basically all style over substance.

As for the cast, French rock 'n' roll icon Johnny Hallyday may have been a perfect fit playing an ageing hitman-turned-chef who has seen it all, thanks to his world-weary charisma and craggy presence, he doesn't leave much of an impression. His stiff acting is especially wooden most of the times and spends most of the time bumbling around. That sparks an interesting question if ever original star Alain Delon (To's favourite idol) who pulled out due to his dissatisfaction with the script, will make a better choice instead. Luckily, his Hong Kong co-stars (all To's regulars) especially Anthony Wong, Lam Ka-Tung, Lam Suet and Simon Yam are vintage as usual.

Whereas most of the movie is noticeably lacklustre, To manages to make amend by turning his film a bloody good time in term of its technical accomplishment. The action is the true highlights, with To's trademark of violence accompanied by the smoky, stylised blood spray are all evident here: The shootout scene at a picnic area in the woods under the shifting moonlight; the broad daylight massacre at a dumpsite, where everyone takes cover behind huge bales of compacted trash while shooting against each other; and the final bloody showdown at the narrow alley of Macau. Likewise, the production credits are top-notch with Cheng Siu Keung's perfectly noirish cinematography and David Richardson's smooth editing make up most of the disappointments here.

It's hardly a burning sensation one might hope for, but VENGEANCE remains reasonably entertaining enough for die-hard fans of To's work.

Although VENGEANCE possesses most of Johnnie To's signature filmmaking styles including stylised gunplays and regular cast, this movie is all flashy style over substance.

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