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July 2010

Vengeance

cast: Johnny Halladay, Anthony Wong, Simon Yam, Suet Lam, and Sylvie Testud

director: Johnnie To

104 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Optimum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
review by Christopher Geary

Vengeance

If you could splice together creative talents just like strands of DNA, and combined prominent action-movie directors Michael Mann, Ridley Scott, and John Woo, the result would be a filmmaker of such genius as Johnnie To, maker of the compelling psychological urban fantasy Mad Detective (aka: Sun taam, 2007), media satire and crime story crossover drama Breaking News (aka: Dai si gin, 2004), and PTU (2003) - an excellent cop drama which launched the Tactical Unit franchise.

Vengeance (aka: Fuk sau) maintains the exceptional standard of cinematic values that Hong Kong auteur To has established in his career spanning three decades. He first reached an international audience with VHS releases like comicbook fantasy horror of super-heroines, The Heroic Trio (Dung fong saam hap, 1993), but he won great critical acclaim with slightly more conventional material like thriller Running Out Of Time (aka: Am zin, 1999), about the vigilante mastermind played by Andy Lau. Following To's classic, The Mission (aka: Cheung fo, 1999) - concerning a team of professional killers, and Exiled (aka: Fong juk, 2006), Vengeance completes a loose trilogy, all featuring larger-than-life characters, brilliantly choreographed gunfight sequences, and intriguing plotting with many clever, tragic, or suspenseful twists.

Costello (Johnny Halladay, from sci-fi road-movie Terminus, 1987) is a French chef visiting Hong Kong because his daughter has been wounded, and her husband and children all killed, by a triad assassination squad. Eager for payback on the rather slimy gangland boss whose killers attacked his family, Costello hires his own group of killers to help him get violent revenge. Because hit-men typically operate alone, or in isolation, like terrorist cells, it doesn't become clear until after new hostilities break out that both groups of killers answer to the same triad gangster. Of course, Costello is also proficient with guns, being a retired killer, and so the stage is set for a series of shootouts, testing loyalty and brotherhood amongst the killers and their vicious brethren, while the moral tensions mount and personal stakes increase.

As usual with To's work, what makes this film special is the director's quite extraordinary attention to detail. Every scene is carefully stylised with richly textured lighting and inspired camera angles used to present vividly theatrical scenes of dramatic motion and mesmerising stillness. Action, with a frequently surprising intensity or otherwise tragicomic appeal, is To's forte.



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