(A.k.a. FUK SAU; REVENGE)
A family's refined dinner preparations are cut short one rainy afternoon when their plush home is invaded by Chinese hitmen. The mother Irene (Sylvia Testud) survives the ensuing bloody shoot-out, but her husband and two children are snuffed out.
Costello (Johnny Hallyday) rushes to the hospital to visit Irene, his daughter. He finds that her injuries have left her mute, but is able to coax a message from her by following her fingertip to key text on a newspaper's page. He (and we) learns that there were three assailants, and that Irene managed to shoot one in his ear.
Above all, Irene is able to convey one simple but powerful message to Costello: "Avenge me". Without further ado, he vows to do just that.
So, with a few police photos as clues, Costello wastes no time in travelling to the neon lights of Macau, China. Although describing himself as a chef to anyone that will listen, Costello is clearly no stranger to violence and it is this suggested former life that is also responsible for his failing memory - which gives him an extra reason to exact revenge without delay.
After asking the right questions to a couple of prostitutes and a taxi driver, Costello is directed the seedy heart of Macau - and to three hitmen who may be able to help him find his daughter's attackers. This bonkers trio consists of Kwai (Anthony Wong), Fat Lok (Suet Lam) and Chu (Ka Tung Lam).
The three hoods are initially wary of Costello but, after impressing him with their deadly skills during a hotel-bound assassination, he wins them over with the promise of money, jewellery and the restaurant and apartment he owns back in France.
Having taken up the stranger's offer, the three hitmen then check out the crime scene and deduce that they must take Costello to Hong Kong in the hope of finding the culprits. Complications arise when their mission is compromised by contradictory orders from their unhinged Mafia boss Fung (Simon Yam) ...
Nominated for the Palm D'Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival (it lost out to Michael Haneke's phenomenal THE WHITE RIBBON), VENGEANCE is a searing action thriller that equals its visual panache with intelligence and heart-pounding tension.
Who'd have thought France's biggest rock star would be able to pull off the portrayal of such a complex, intense character as Costello? But Hallyday makes the role his own. His level of commitment is unerring; his steely determination is fundamental to the success of the film's emotional draw. As crazy as it sounds, it's almost impossible to imagine To's original choice - the brilliant Alain Delon (he backed out following script disputes) - being any better.
Elsewhere Hallyday is supported by a supremely capable cast. It's a pleasure to see Wong on fine form again, even if he doesn't reach the manic heights of EBOLA SYNDROME or UNTOLD STORY. But he's endlessly watchable anyway, as is the ever-reliable Yam (ELECTION; IP MAN) - a veritable fireball of nervous energy.
Ka-Fai Wai is a talented writer-director himself (he's arguably best known on these shores for helming FULLTIME KILLER). Here, his screenplay is smart enough to contemplate Chinese staples such as honour, loyalty and family, while adhering to the conventions of the gangster film without ever succumbing to overt cliché. The action keeps on coming, and yet Wai and To work together to offer just enough dialogue-free passages which allow their characters (and the audience) to mull over the deeper implications of their actions.
You can cite MEMENTO for a superficially similar plot contrivance, or turn to virtually any Hong Kong-based crime thriller to find thematic and visual comparisons to VENGEANCE. Heck, even the title is one that's been used aplenty. But Wai's talent is in taking a potentially tired storyline and steeping it in several layers that, upon a second viewing, really do start bubbling to the surface.
But this is To's film. He takes Wai's genre-savvy script and a top-notch cast, throws them in front of some sublime International locations and makes the business of directing a taut, gripping revenge thriller seem effortless. It's violent - very violent. It's exciting. It's charismatic. And it's even cerebral.
VENGEANCE gets the uncut treatment on Optimum Home Entertainment's disc. To's stylised visuals are catered for ably in this extremely healthy DVD presentation. Images are sharp, colours are vivid and depth is exceptional throughout this stunningly clean, clear and vibrant presentation. The film is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1.
The original soundtrack offers a mix of Cantonese and (mainly) English languages. Optimum have provided 2.0 and 5.1 audio tracks on their disc, and both are fantastic propositions. The latter ensures that every gunshot resonates, every breath rasps and each strain of Tayu Lo's impressively bleak score hits home. Optional English subtitles are also provided, but these cater for the foreign dialogue only.
A gorgeous, colourful animated main menu page opens the disc with images that border on 3D in their effect. From there, a static scene-selection menu allows access to the main feature via 12 chapters.
Extras begin with an excellent Making Of documentary. It's only 10 minutes in length but don't let that put you out: there are some great cast and crew interviews mingling alongside riveting behind-the-scenes footage within. Wong speaks very fluent English, while the others are aided by removable English subtitles.
A trailer rounds off the limited extras. This is presented in anamorphic widescreen and runs for 94 seconds.
VENGEANCE is a marvellous film. Visually arresting and dramatically enthralling, it puts To back on the form he established with ELECTION and makes up for the minor disappointment of 2007's MAD DETECTIVE (which he co-directed with Wai).
Also available on blu-ray.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Optimum Home Entertainment|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|