Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Johnnie To’s Vengeance

Imagine if Elvis had made a Shaw Brothers’ kung fu movie. Okay, maybe it is not quite that epic, but any collaboration between HK action auteur Johnnie To and French rock icon Johnny Hallyday is still seriously cool. Indeed, fans of To’s hardboiled spectacles will not be disappointed in Vengeance (trailer here), an official selection of the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, which opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center.

Tragedy brings Frenchman Francis Costello to Macao. His son-in-law and young grandsons were mercilessly gunned by triads, while his daughter just barely clings to life. The coppers are useless, but Costello gets a break when he witnesses a hit squad wrapping up a job in his hotel. Rather than dropping a dime, he offers them a contract: his family’s killers, whoever they might be. Further complicating matters, a bullet long lodged in Costello’s brain will eventually rob him of his memories. For a chef though, he sure knows his way around guns.

Essentially, Vengeance is another reworking of the formula To perfected in films like Exiled and The Mission, with a crew of hired guns, led each time by the steely Anthony Wong, turning against their underworld patron, as usual played by Simon Yam, to help a fast friend. In To’s case, the variations on the theme are always richly satisfying. Again, he demonstrates a knack for elevating familiar action set-ups to grandly theatrical heights.

Arguably, the flinty Wong is the best action actor working in international theater today. All kinds of bad, his intense screen presence compares with Eastwood in his prime. As for Hallyday, he seems to be channeling old school noir Robert Mitchum as the grizzled father out for revenge. He has the goods.

To really brings out the inner fan boy in HK film lovers (such as myself). Riddled with style, but following directly in tradition of great samurai and ronin films, his gangsters live outside the law, yet scrupulously observe their own code of honor. Thanks to the inspired addition of Hallyday, Vengeance ranks as one of his best. Highly recommended for those who enjoy artfully rendered movie mayhem, Vengeance opens this Friday (12/10) in New York at the IFC Center.