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.”