Year of release: 2009
Director: Johnnie To
Action director: Nicky Li
Producers: Johnnie To, Wai Ka-Fai
Writer: Wai Ka-Fai
Cinematography: Cheng Siu-Keung, To Hung-Mo
Editor: David Richardson
Music: Law Daai-Yau, Barry Chung
Stars: Johnny Hallyday, Anthony Wong, Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Gordon Lam, Sylvie Testud, James Chalke, Felix Wong, Vincent Sze, Michelle Ye, Eddie Cheung, Berg Ng, Maggie Siu, Stanley Fung
Rated IIB for violence, language, and brief sexuality
Movie Review Index
Possibly because it was a co-production between Hong Kong and France, Vengeance feels a bit different than most of Johnnie To's other films that center around the criminal underbelly of Chinese society. That's not to say that Vengeance is a bad movie at all. In fact, in many facets, it's quite good, and overall, this is a release well-deserving of your time. Just keep in mind that you might encounter a bit of deja vu, as the path To walks down here seems to be pretty well-worn at this point in his career.
Vengeance was originally slated to star Alain Delon, the actor whose work in Le Samourai launched a thousand Hong Kong homages, not the least of which was Chow Yun-Fat's iconic performance in The Killer. After Delon turned down the role, Johnnie To brought in Johnny Hallyday, known as "the Elvis of France". Hallyday plays Costello, a French chef who travels to Macau to investigate the shooting of his daughter and her family. One night in his hotel, Costello witnesses a hit, but instead of turning the assassins in to the police, he decides to hire them in order to take revenge for his daughter.
Probably the biggest problem present with Vengeance is its' plot and script. Most pointedly, some of the story arc and resolution come off as a bit lazy. For instance, when Costello hires the hitmen, he simply promises them cash via the sale of his restaurant in France. I don't know about you, but I've never heard of many hitmen that will take IOUs. Also, we have the subject of Costello losing his memory and having to rely on pictures to remember things. Though not totally derivative of Memento, there's enough similarity that viewers can definitely draw some clear connections.
But, for all the things Vengeance does wrong, there's more than enough things done right to buoy it. The film looks fantastic, with some of the more stylish gunplay you're likely to see from a movie produced anywhere in the world. And, even though they really don't have much to work with and have to deliver many lines in English, the main Chinese actors generally do a fine job, with the standout being Anthony Wong, who seems to be developing a very good working relationship with Johnnie To. While he's not going to win any awards, Johnny Hallyday brings the appropriate amount of gravitas to his character, which goes a long way to making the somewhat far-fetched aspects of the story more palatable to viewers.
So, while Vengeance isn't on the level of Johnnie To's best work like The Mission and Exiled, it's still a damn good crime film that will definitely satiate fans of To, and Asian cinema as a whole. While the Hong Kong film industry as a whole is now a shell of its' former self, it's good to know there are still some directors working there that can still bring the goods on a consistent basis, and are determined to keep doing so for the foreseeable future.