MPI // 2009 // 109 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // November 16th, 2010
"I know these people, don't I?"
"They were your friends, your best friends."
Who's that guy who looks like a skinny Charles Bronson? He's Johnny Hallyday, a French singer who drew big crowds last year for a Bastille Day concert in Paris. I saw part of the concert last year on YouTube, so I was naturally curious to see Hallyday in a starring role. Thus, I couldn't pass up the chance to review Vengeance.
Costello (Johnny Hallyday, The Pink Panther 2), a Paris chef and restaurateur, has arrived in Macao with a mission: to get revenge on the bad guys who wiped out his daughter and her family. He hires three assassins -- Kwai, Chu, and Fat Lok -- to help him. He's paying well, so they take the job, even though he's not quite sure who they should be assassinating yet. The trail leads to a shootout in a park, and the realization that they've taken on someone they shouldn't have messed with. It also reveals the hurdle Costello is facing: a fading memory from a long-ago bullet in the brain.
For most of Vengeance, mustachioed Johnny Hallyday has an expression that would make you very, very nervous if you met him on the street. This gets particularly creepy toward the end, when he's really starting to forget. He's out for blood, but will he get the right target? Throughout, Hallyday makes Costello sinister enough to make the tough guys he's with suspect he's a badder ass than they are, and gave me the same suspicion. At the same time, he's tender in a scene in which he communicates with his daughter one last time, pointing to words in a newspaper to elicit responses.
The best scenes are when Hallyday puts tender and terrible together, as when he finally meets up with the men who killed his daughter and grandchildren. He and the three assassins follow the culprits to a park, but are stymied by the arrival of the culprits' families for a picnic. Hallyday and his allies sit watching the picnic from a table on a hill until the families go home and it's time for a shootout. In this scene, Costello appears to be reminded of his own grandchildren even as he broods on vengeance. The nonchalance of his intended targets in this scene is also memorable. There's also a nifty scene near the end as Costello enlists a bunch of kids to help him focus on his target. Those scenes, along with a few smaller touches, help create a vivid character.
Throughout Vengeance, director Johnnie To (2005's Election) demonstrates his love of stylized violence, following assassins as they march through the halls of a hotel, readying their weapons on the way, until the final hit on a couple in the midst of making whoopie, for example. Those set-piece shootouts are played for maximum tension, even as the stylish direction gives them an unreal quality.
The picture quality is excellent, as is the sound (with dialogue in a mix of English, French, and Cantonese).
There's a making-of feature that touches on some interesting thoughts from Johnnie To, but doesn't let him expand on them. On a brighter note, the trailer's effective in setting the movie's mood.
Vengeance is a well-done violent picture, but it is a violent picture. If your tastes run more PG than R, you'll probably want to skip this one.
Love action? Vengeance has plenty of it, wringing everything it can out of each scene. Better still, Johnny Hallyday's performance lets Johnnie To's stylistic touches become effective character moments rather than show-off direction. It never becomes a highbrow character study, but it does make for a damned good story of, well, vengeance.
Guilty as hell of being a guilty pleasure.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, French, Cantonese)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 109 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated