Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok's criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother's recent death.
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Bangkok. Ten years ago Julian killed a man and went on the run. Now he manages a Thai boxing club as a front for a drugs operation. Respected in the criminal underworld, deep inside, he feels empty. When Julian's brother murders an underage prostitute, the police call on retired cop Chang - the Angel of Vengeance. Chang allows the father to kill his daughter's murderer, then 'restores order' by chopping off the man's right hand. Julian's mother Crystal - the head of a powerful criminal organization - arrives in Bangkok to collect her son's body. She dispatches Julian to find his killers and 'raise hell'.Written by
Hot of the heels of his breakthrough to the big league, Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn delivers a vivid pastel of imagery firmly situated on top of a self-flagellating revenge flick, which makes Johnnie To look like Akira Kurosawa. When Billy (Tom Burke), one of two brothers leading a drug trafficking ring and muay-thai fighting arena, haplessly decides to go on a hunt to rape and kill a underage prostitute, he is soon exacted punishment through the actions of police lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). This in turn brings about a spiralling circle of violence, when their mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) attempts to induce vengeful retribution on those responsible, despite the half-hearted opposition of the quietly numb younger sibling Julian (an ever-distant Ryan Gosling).
With "Drive" as a reference point, Refn seemingly intended to push the envelope further down the road, replacing the withdrawn anti-hero with a tirade of depraved villains, offering only two characters: Chang and Julian any sort of moral code, however skewed and lopsided it may be. This essentially makes neither the story nor the characters relatable in the slightest, making the almost oniric film language painted with red and blue (to an extreme not ventured into since the glory days of Dario Argento) a distanced voyage into a dark fable of gloom and doom. Depending on your taste buds this is undoubtedly a hit-and-miss type of movie, easily attention grabbing with its artsy endeavour in bloody circles of violence, but lacking essential movie meat underneath the skinned body. As such it can be admired for its crazed trippiness or for the beautiful suddenness of splattered carcasses.
This beautiful cocoon of irrelevance is essentially good viewing, but despite its adventurous experimentation it still seemed overly derivative of Hong Kong, Korean or other East Asian revenge dramas. Nonetheless Refn boldly borrows aesthetics and even some concepts or specific scenes, successfully transposing the language into a Western- made movie (a success in itself) without a hint of pastiche or reverence. From a filmmaking point of view a success, but with characters so detached from viewer interest it comes off more as a failed experiment into the formation of an alternative 'non-hero' protagonist.
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