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Wick's Review

Created Aug 06, 2013 11:35AM PST • Edited Aug 07, 2013 05:49PM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Great 4.0

    Blood begets blood as a Bangkok blood feud drives waves of retribution in artistic director Nicholas Winding Refn’s crime thriller Only God Forgives. Think Drive crossed with Bronson, set in Asia.

    If that doesn’t mean anything to you, imagine Ryan Gosling in a savagely violent, broodingly artistic genre pic. As Jack Nicholson almost said in Prizzi’s Honor: I didn’t know whether to puke or swoon.

    Swooning won, as it will for Asian action movie fans, Gosling fans and Nicholas Winding Refn fans. Indeed, reuniting leading man Gosling with auteur Refn was enough to cause many of us to seek out a theater showing this obscure movie. We weren’t let down. RG & NWR = potent & precise cinema.

    Only God Forgives is significantly edgier than Drive however. In fact, it’s as horrid as Bronson, the disquieting biopic Refn made with Tom Hardy.

    Setting the movie in Bangkok is a fresh masterstroke, especially since Hong Kong has been so played and because the Thai capital is a legendarily crazy place. Claude Rains said life is cheap in Casablanca. He ain’t never been to Bangkok, where girls are cheaper than guys and guys apparently aren’t that expensive.

    Into this wicked milieu, Refn inserts a classic Gosling brooder, the kind of guy who ruminates his way through visits to high-end whorehouses. It becomes clear why when we meet his ultra-wicked Mother, a maternally malign presence who makes the Wicked Witch of the West seem nurturing. No wonder her eldest raped and killed a 16 year old girl, and her youngest has severely repressed emotional issues.

    Some of this is darkly funny, other parts are breathtakingly artistic, while the movie as a whole deftly executes the Asian action tropes of its hometown. Even with a too long title that doesn’t help its cause, Only God Forgives offers more than it asks from movie lovers cool enough to seek it out.

  3. Very Good 3.5

    Ryan Gosling has – what? – a dozen lines. The one he screams doesn’t exactly work, but the others do. All in all, his dialog is just a tick behind the terse lines Refn gave him in Drive, as is his performance. Still, the guy commands the screen, a man’s man and a woman’s fantasy. Moviestar.

    Kristin Scott Thomas competently plays his wicked Mother, a glamorous international drug lord. However she seems to be acting, not inhabiting her character. Perhaps her soul wouldn’t allow her to do more.

    Vithaya Pansringarm plays the Angel of Vengeance police Lieutenant. He’s a bit too formal for my taste, but that probably says more about my Western expectations than it does about his performance.

    Yayaying Rhatha Phongam brings her gorgeous features and a clear intelligence to the stock hooker role. A popular Thai singer who goes by Yayaying (or is that Yaya-Ying?), she draws the camera to her in every scene she’s in and her English is excellent. Hollywood, are you listening?


    • Gordon Brown fails to impress as a henchman. Apparently a Refn fave, he was also in Bronson.
    • Tom Burke ably plays Gosling’s psycho brother. However, he’s way less handsome, which isn’t how he’s described in the script, leading to some cognitive dissonance for the audience.
    • Sahajak Boonthanakit was rather compelling as a police accomplice.
  4. Male Stars Great 4.0
  5. Female Stars Very Good 3.5
  6. Female Costars Very Good 3.5
  7. Male Costars Very Good 3.5
  8. Really Great 4.5

    Only God Forgives follows Asian action movie tropes: it’s heavy on martial arts and climaxes with the senior rivals having a showdown fight.

    Nicholas Winding Refn is a rather unique filmmaker: highly stylized, art house even, while being totally hard core at the same time. Tarantino must be admiring, if not jealous. Reservoir Dogs comes to mind.

    Finally, Refn’s biggest weakness is titling. Drive was under-titled. Only God Forgives is over-titled. Goldilocks Refn should ultimately get it right.

  9. Direction Really Great 4.5
  10. Play Great 4.0
  11. Music Perfect 5.0
  12. Visuals Really Great 4.5
  13. Content
  14. Horrid 3.9

    The horrid edginess comes from extreme levels of violence and rudeness, even as the movie is relatively chaste in its depictions of sex. Indeed, the sex is more implied than shown, though a hand goes up a skirt on more than one occasion.

    The savage violence is the thing however, notably when a martial arts sword gets wielded as a terrifying weapon of vengeance.

    Words wound also, especially when wielded by the wicked Mother of the movie.

  15. Sex Erotic 2.7
  16. Violence Savage 4.5
  17. Rudeness Vile 4.6
  18. Glib 2.0

    Deeply surreal circoreality and modestly surreal bioreality make this a movie of doubly heightened reality.

  19. Circumstantial Surreal 3.0
  20. Biological Surreal 2.1
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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