Revenge: A Love Story (2011, Wong Ching Po)
The past decade has seen Japan and South Korea export a wave of sophisticated and outstanding cinema that has reinvigorated the ‘revenge’ genre. The Chaser, Oldboy and Confessions are a few that have managed to capture a complex yet engaging narrative, with visceral brutality and emotional depth. Hong Kong’s latest effort comes in the form of Wong Ching Po’s Revenge: A Love Story. Divided into 6 chapters, the story follows store clerk Kit (Juno Mak) as he seeks vengeance against the corrupt policemen who raped his girlfriend (Sola Aoi).
Revenge: A Love Story’s first 30 minutes creates the narrative world in a gritty, despondent manner that feels genuinely threatening and uncompromising. Eerily similar to the first scenes of last year’s fantastic I Saw the Devil, the same effect still applies to Revenge’s opening construction of a basic plot and dark, brooding atmosphere. The story itself is a straight-forward affair that fosters some twists and turns, and manages to implement flashbacks relatively well. For the most part, the film’s pacing is solid and Jimmy Wong’s cinematography, while never original, uses lighting and camera-work effectively to capture the few intense scenes the film has.
The main problem lies with Wong Ching Po’s efforts to meld numerous sub-genres with exposition-heavy flashbacks. The various narrative strands feel underdeveloped or too cliché to build any substantial solidity. In particular the film’s ‘love story’ fails dramatically, never evolving from quiet stares and childish smiles. This coupled with generic characters and underwhelming performances culminates in a thriller which lacks emotional substance and drive. The film clambers to gain that missing poignancy through shock-value in its rape scene and extreme violence, uncomfortably treading into ‘exploitation’ territory. Meanwhile, Revenge’s forced ‘anti-revenge’ morality is constantly thrust onto the screen through its ‘philosophical’ chapter titles and a finale that practically ruins its intended message. The soundtrack is stale and fails to contribute to the descent visual nature of the film, while the sound design seems muted.
Overall Revenge: A Love Story’s ambitiousness is admirable and the first act builds a relatively solid foundation. However Wong fails to construct anything particularly original or engaging on those first 30 minutes. By all means this isn’t a bad addition to the increasing ‘revenge’ genre, but pales in comparison to recent works from Hong Kong’s East Asian neighbours.
The usual suspects are included. A ‘Making Of’, Director and Producer interviews and trailers, but nothing particularly interesting.