Don’t Be Fooled

Nicholas Winding Refn‘s Only God Forgives (Radius-TWC, 7.19) is world-class in its repulsiveness, and it goes way beyond being a time-waster. The fumes from this oppressively violent Asian macho bullshit sword-slicing fantasy will sink into your system and your soul and leave you off-kilter — tainted in ways that may be hard to pinpoint at first but are no less real — for weeks after seeing it. Or months. Or eternally.

“Effyoueffyoueffyoueffyoueffyou, Refn…eff you and the whole Asian action-porn attitude you rode in on,” I wrote on 5.22. “You’re now a dead man in my book. Dead as Jimmy Hoffa. Drive is still a good film but now I want to trash it somehow. Let’s see…it was also paced like a funeral of an 89 year-old Italian man with too many relatives, and like Only God Forgives it had this fetish about slicing flesh and limbs with sharp knives and swords, and it definitely needed one more fast-car sequence.

“I can tell you this — I’ll never watch Bronson ever again and I’ll never, ever visit Bangkok, not even with one of Refn’s swords at my neck. I’m even starting to re-think Pusher in the wake of this shite.

“The Nicholas Winding Refn takedown insurgency starts here. He has played his last macho sadism sword-knife card. Well, I’m sure he hasn’t but if I was the dictator of Hollywood I would shun his ass.

“I even have this idea that Refn has personal problems. Seriously. Watch this movie and you’ll soon be saying to yourself, ‘Who the hell is this fucking guy? Is he a monster? A sadism machine? What does he feel? Who or what does he care about?’ If I were Refn I would think about submitting to therapy and whatever medications might help in the general effort, but I’m not Refn and he has his own life to live. I only know that Only God Forgives is malignant, odious crap.

Only God Forgives is basically about a gang of Bangkok-based white-guy drug dealers (led by a pair of glaring, psychotic, inarticulate zombie brothers played by Ryan Gosling and Tom Burke) who ignite a tit-for-tate vengeance feud for morally reprehensible reasons and who get their asses handed to them by a sword-wielding Asian cop known on the Wiki page as ‘the Angel of Vengeance’ and played by Vithaya Pansringarm. I was on the cop’s side all the way. Waste those assholes. Make ‘em howl and scream and beg for their lives. Up with sword-wielding Asian cops!

“It starts with Burke, obviously an asshole and some kind of diseased Hannibal Lecter-type psychopath, hiring a pretty teenaged prostitute and then going upstairs with her and carving her up like a turkey. He obviously needs to die painfully. Pansringarm and some other cops show up and survey the scene with Bruke sitting on a bed, and then Pansringarm goads the father of the girl to kill Burke, which he does. And then Pansringarm decides that the father has to be mutilated for urging or allowing his other daughters to become prostitutes, and so he cuts off part of his arm with a sword.

“My God, what a brilliant beginning for a film! I desperately wanted to see a Godzilla-like serpent crawl out of the Bangkok river and find all these characters and eat them and their clothes.

“Gosling, naturally, gets it in his head that his brother’s death needs to be avenged, when in fact it needs to be celebrated. Then he has second thoughts when he realizes his brother had slaughtered a teenage prostitute. When he informs his gargoyle mafia-godmother mom, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, that the scenario is ‘complicated’ due to his brother’s crime, KST is unfazed. ‘I’m sure he had his reasons,’ she says. She reveals later on that she always favored Burke because he was ballsier and braver and had a much bigger schlong than Gosling did.

“And then stone-faced Gosling starts hanging out with a very pretty prostitute, played by Rathar Phongam, except she offends him greatly in one scene by asking him why he takes so much shit from his mother. He snaps and pushes her against the wall and demands that she take her dress off, which she does. And then he gives it back to her.

“It’s rare to find a movie as dedicated as this one to making absolutely no sense.

“Anyway, one guy gets killed and then another one and then a couple of hit men take out a whole roomful of folks in a cafe in an attempt to hit Pansringarm, and then Pansringarm runs and kills the hitmen with his sword and then he kills Gosling’s top henchman, and then Gosling goes after his family and yaddah yaddah. The basic thrust, as previously noted, is that the cop rules and the white guys are toast.

“I was repelled by this film in ways I didn’t know I could be repelled before I saw it. Okay, I liked Kirstin Scott Thomas but she isn’t given much in the way of understandable motivation, and she really doesn’t have a lot of great dialogue. NWR just gives her some, just enough. What he’s really in love with is lighting everything with a blood-red tint. And getting Gosling to play a stone-faced asshole.”

  • Awardsdaily

    I totally agree with your opening paragraph but it’s also made me wonder whether art that powerful is, in the end, good or worthwhile. It really does do exactly as you say, “sink into your system and your soul and leave you off-kilter — tainted in ways that may be hard to pinpoint at first but are no less real — for weeks after seeing it. Or months. Or eternally.” Doesn’t that make it disturbing enough to be significant? I just ask the question because I don’t know the answer. I hated the movie.

    • Raising_Kaned

      It’s a great question, Sasha (although, obviously, essentially rhetorical).

      One of your best posts here I’ve ever read.

  • MovieSquad

    The fact that you came away possibly permanently tainted would, no doubt, delight Refn. That’s exactly what he was intending.

  • BromanBrolanski

    Would have been the perfect opportunity to play the classic “Don’t tell me, man. I know about this shit more than you do.” Wells card.

    “OGF is world-class in its repulsiveness. Don’t tell me, I KNOW about repulsiveness.”

  • Glenn Kenny

    It looks as if Jeff is laying the groundwork for an “Only God Forgives” defense for some heinous crime he’s contemplating. Hope his love thing hasn’t gone horribly south ALREADY.

  • Deaf Ears

    “I would think about submitting to therapy and whatever medications might help in the general effort”

    I can think of somebody who could benefit from this regimen – and it ain’t Refn, who for all of his sadistic obsessions seems to be pretty high functioning and able to transform his neuroses into art.

  • MarkVH

    I dunno, I kinda liked it.

  • Mark

    That’s a pretty darn-good trailer. If To The Wonder was meant as background eye candy during an semi-intimate dinner, maybe this was meant for the after party once the socially-accepted drugs and good bourbon were brought out.

  • Raising_Kaned

    Something’s telling me I’ll probably love this.

    I have to take issue with this, though:

    Drive is still a good film but now I want to trash it somehow.”

    Why the fuck do you say stuff like this? It makes you seem, like, really emotionally-driven about the stuff you decide to trash and endorse. It certainly doesn’t help your objectivity, I know that much.

    If a movie works when you watch it then you have to come to terms with that. You can change your opinion after watching it a second time, but you can’t totally erase that first reaction (hiya, Inglourious Basterds!) — and changing your opinion on an older film retroactively to your reaction to a director’s current film is just, well….how do I put this gently?

    Aw, fuckit….it’s stupid.

  • zantetsupowaa

    But how does it compare to The Yakuza?

  • Steven Gaydos

    DIsagree completely and I wasn’t on the DRIVE bandwagon. At all. ONLY GOD FORGIVES is an entirely original film, poetic, disturbing, a beautifully realized vision of innocence overpowered by darkness. You’ve tossed away a gem this time.

  • Gabe_Toro

    To be honest, I cringe at some of this initial review. Any idiot should be able to realize that, despite the setting, the story isn’t specifically “Asian” or representative of any sort of “Asian” ideals (if there are such a thing, and if many entire cultures could be summed up as such a thing). Jeff’s tossing some bait out there, and it’s a bit… gross?

    I was surprised that he dedicated this to Jodorowsky. It certainly seems like more of a Kubrick film.

    • Raising_Kaned

      That’s music to my ears. A Kubrick homage from Refn is just what the Dr. ordered.

      It looks a little more Noe to me, but Noe is essentially the closest we have to the Kube in the current cinematic landscape (IMHO), so same difference, really…

      • Ray Quick

        “Music to my ears,” “what the Dr. ordered,” “Kube”? KUBE?

        Christ, I just ripped up my carpet to fucking hide under it, CRINGE-INDUCING.

        • Raising_Kaned

          So is that the closest your mouth has ever been to a “carpet?”

          By the way — nothing is more cringe-inducing than actually using the term “cringe-inducing.”

          You’re douche-inducing.