Revenge: A Love Story
NOTE – Although the plot is summarized in this review I do not give away the real spoiler information. This film is about payback, so the tragic loss (which I touch on slightly) should be considered as an obvious (and essential) narrative device. In order for any good revenge film to work you must take everything from the protagonist before you set him loose on the world!
Hailing from Hong Kong and directed by Wong Ching-Po, ‘Revenge, a love story’ is an all out revenge flick, which delivers some gut wrenching visceral action and a strong moral punchline. Alone as a generic revenge film it would not necessarily offer much to an already swollen genre, especially when it stands next to the collection of ‘Western’ blockbusters. But as an export of a relatively unknown film culture, and as a masterpiece of cinematography it is a stand out picture that should be on your list of ‘ones to watch’ if you are serious about international cinema.
I came across this film thanks to the East Asian Film Society, who I am no longer a member of. However during my brief membership I was shown that the rest of the world has just as much to offer in the ways of quality films as Hollywood.
‘Revenge’ is centred around the psychotic (at first glance) vendetta obsessions of a relatively insignificant store clerk, Kit. There is nothing special about him, he is in many respects the stereotypical ‘loser’. Only he has (running the risk of sounding cheesy) a heart of gold.
His life finally has a meaning when he meets the dysfunctional schoolgirl Wing, played by the very beautiful Sola Aoi. They are in a sense the unlikeliest of couples, yet their scarred and fragile personalities draw them together as any quintessential romance plot should.
I’ll spare the spoiler information and just say ‘this and that’ leads to their separation, and by dividing this young couple (who are totally dependant on one another) you take away everything they have. One of them gets weaker, and one of them snaps.
And the fascinating thing about this film is the exploration into how much a person can change when you push them into that corner, when you destroy whatever they call home. Because the day you do that is the day that person turns into a monster, totally oblivious to the codes and conduct of humility. It’s easier than we think to go over the edge and lose control, and that’s what makes this an intense ride, that’s why it sells to the film junkies. The gritty truth of human nature shines through, and we are drawn to what we (as a society) collectively fear…
When you watch this film for the first time the plot establishing ‘tragic loss’ is not clear until some time into the film, yet even without this moral factor the film carries itself on the literal intensity that is right in front of us: The chase scenes and the violence, the brutality and the enigmas. If this was a mindless action piece (and trust me it isn’t!) it would still most likely have you sat on the edge of your seat, only to recoil back in shock at the regular interludes of well placed gore.
And the cinematography, the look and feel of the film… That really is the icing on the cake. Jimmy Wong elegantly sculpts the atmospherics and the emotion of the scenes to gritty perfection with his contributions as the director of photography. Every second of the film is appropriately shot in a responsive style; so the angles are well-considered and the framing sharply envisions every possible feeling or action of the actors and set. The film stock is generally a faded and washed out amalgamation of greys and sepia tones, to suit the downtrodden nature of the film. Fresh, bright colours are used sparingly, as if to imply that these characters live in bleak times, and the ‘good times’ are rare, but memorable.
Overall this film is, in my opinion a totally unnoticed gem. Most likely overlooked because of its foreign origin, and English subtitles. But I cannot stress enough how much of a mistake it would be if you missed the opportunity to see this film. It’s a well crafted work of a mature culture, with a lot to say about the way we tick. Every passing scene intensifies, leading up to a truly unexpected conclusion. It’s a recommendation for anyone who can stomach a bit of gore and violence, but it’s a must for those with a taste for the more intellectual cinema. Take my advice on this one, leave your prejudices at the door and treat yourself to the DVD.