Thursday, September 29, 2016

One Neon Night in Bangkok, or Thoughts on Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives (2013), by Danish film director Nicolas Winding Refn of Bronson (2008), Drive (2011) and The Neon Demon (2016) stars Ryan Gosling as Julian, a farang gangster in Thailand, in a passive, emotionally muted performance.  The movie was polarizing, even in France; it premiered at Cannes where it was concurrently booed and applauded, critics and audiences didn’t know what to think.  Only God Forgives is in many ways a confusing and operatic mess, a grisly, sordid, blood-soaked, post-noir crime drama with Shakespearian overtones and also a nightmarish vision of the Bangkok underworld.
The movie starts out as a standard revenge thriller; Julian’s brother is killed (for raping and murdering an underage Thai prostitute, I told you the movie was sordid) and Julian and his gang search for his brother’s murderer.  The story descends into murky and surreal depths with the introduction of Kristen Scott Thomas with a coarse American accent, as Crystal, Julian’s hard mother and Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm, as Lt. Chang, who enjoys karaoke and dispensing his own brand of Old Testament justice by sword.  Vithaya Pansringarm is largely unknown in the US but did have an appearance in The Hangover Part II (2011).
There are so many scenes of seedy hotel rooms and dive bars splashed in red neon as if to emphasize a hidden circle of hell that Julian navigates with quiet introspection.  The narrative fades in and out as the audience sees the film from Julian’s perspective, including his visions of Lt. Chang, his feelings of guilt and loss of control.  Lt. Chang becomes Julian’s vision of destiny or an angel of death as Julian passively accepts whatever fate comes across him, much to his domineering mother’s disappointment.
Kristen Scott Thomas’s performance as Julian’s mother is uncomfortably intimate, with hints of incest and her perception of Julian as the weaker brother.  She comes to Bangkok to avenge her eldest son’s death, and the movie becomes a confrontation between Lt. Chang and Crystal, two opposing forces in varying shades of grey; neither are completely good or evil, with Julian trapped between them.  I get the impression that Julian and his brother went to the other side of the world to get away from their mother, they didn’t go far enough.



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).