Hi, Bryan Here….
I’ll be the first to admit that Nicolas Winding Refn’s movie ‘Drive‘, starring Ryan Gosling was one of my favorite films of that year. It was original, fresh, had a killer soundtrack, and had a wonderful and colorful cast of characters. I own the Blu-ray, soundtrack, and even stickers from the movie. Needless to say, when I heard that Refn was making another film in the same vein called ‘Only God Forgives‘, I was excited with pure joy and couldn’t wait to see it. Not only was it going to star Ryan Gosling and amp up the violence and suspenseful situations to eleven, but it was going to take place in Thailand and pack enough blood for two films. Man, was I dead-wrong about this film and sorely disappointed.
‘Only God Forgives‘ is less than 90 minutes, but feels like three hours as we journey through a slow-moving neon-laced maze of corridors, violent stare downs, and several brutal murder scenes that would make Tarantino blush. Mixing a bit of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch, Refn takes us to the underground world of Thailand, where we meet Julian (Gosling), who is a drug lord who fronts as a boxing promoter. In the first five minutes of the film, Julian’s big brother Billy (Tom Burke) decides he wants to rape a 14 year-old girl, but when he can’t, he goes on a violent rampage until he gets a sixteen year-old girl, and then ends up brutally killing her anyway.
After the murder, a senior police chief known as Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), who dresses like a priest, acts as judge, jury, and executioner to his cases. In this particular one, he allows the father of the dead 16 year-old kill Billy, but also punishes the father for allowing his daughter to be a prostitute, by way of chopping his arm off. The only saving grace for me in the film is Kristen Scott Thomas, who plays Julian and Billy’s mother, Crystal, who is the head mob boss back in the States.
She arrives in Thailand to identify and pick up her son’s body, and we see her true colors once she arrives at the posh hotel where the desk clerk won’t allow her to check-in due to the early time. Once settled, Crystal sees Julian and forces him to get revenge on his brother’s killer. From here, Julian must track down and find Chang before he and his fellow police officers catch up to him and Crystal. What follows is a slow-paced 70 minute film that seems to be going in slow motion with dream sequences and a couple of ultra-violent scenes, including a poor victim being stabbed in the eyes, another being burned by hot cooking oil, and much more.
One of the best scenes was when we get a little bit of background on Julian’s childhood life with his mother, where Julian brings a call-girl as his date to a fancy dinner with his mother. Crystal figures out immediately that Julian’s date is not his girlfriend, but a prostitute and asks her specifically, “How many cocks can you entertain with your cum dumpster?” This is followed by Julian’s mother describing her two son’s penis’ and why Julian was always jealous of his brother’s bigger size. It was unbelievable.
While Kristen Scott Thomas was my favorite character, due to her impeccable delivery and funny lines, Chang’s character was the most intriguing, as he floated across the screen graciously as if he were the angel of death. He never lost his temper, and carried out his executions as if they were the norm. he would follow-up each day with a karaoke number in front of his fellow police officers. Then there is Ryan Gosling, who literally only had a dozen lines in the film, and the rest was spent in a longing stare at the camera.
The camera-work was great and the movie as a whole looked incredible as it reminded me a bit of Kubrick’s ‘The Shining‘ with tons of steadicam shots that weaved in and out of long corridors. However, that really was the only aspect of the film I enjoyed. For fans of super-violent films, you might want to catch this one purely on that aspect, but for the rest of us, feel free to skip this one.