Revenge: A Love Story (Hong Kong, 2010)
The third Terracotta Far East Film Festival will be held at the legendary Prince Charles Cinema in London from May 5 to May 8, 2011. The programme offers an eclectic selection of films from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan, with directors and stars in attendance. Festival passes can be purchased for £70 (£58 for Prince Charles Cinema members) and guarantee entry to all films in the programme. In the week leading up to the event, VCinema reviews three films from the 2011 Terracotta line-up.
Are you sitting uncomfortably? You will be within the first fifteen minutes of Revenge: A Love Story, in which serial killer Chan Kit (Juno Mak) not only murders several police detectives, but also cuts open the stomachs of their pregnant wives. As the killer strangles one of the detectives to death in a single, painfully drawn-out take, the audience is confronted with a character whose cold-hearted determination is sufficient to both seal the fate of his victim and to suggest that Revenge: A Love Story will be anything but a conventional ‘slasher’ movie. This opening section exhibits a sense of uneasy minimalism as dialogue is kept spartan in favour of foreboding camerawork and gruesome gore, with television news reports providing the necessary exposition. After establishing the killer’s modus operandi established, director Wong Ching-Po cuts back and forth between Kit’s systematic slayings and the efforts of the colleagues of his victims to place him in custody. However, there are signs that there is more to this manhunt than initially meets the eye as the detectives already have an idea of the identity of the killer, swiftly searching the area and apprehending Kit as he tries to escape by public bus. At the police station, Kit is ‘interrogated’ in a manner that borders on torture, although the detectives do not seem to have any actual evidence that he is the killer. Their certainty that Kit is guilty stems from a connection between the suspect and the detectives, one that is gradually revealed as the film segues into an extended flashback that serves to alter audience identification and perhaps create sympathy for the devil.
In structural terms, Revenge: A Love Story echoes the previous project of production company 852 Films – Pang Ho-cheung’s Hong Kong property market ‘slasher’ Dream Home (2010) – in that it shifts between three time frames, with the flashbacks to the killer’s earlier misfortune serving as an explanation of his acts of violence. It also shares one of the most shocking elements of Dream Home in that, just as the desperate property applicant in the previous film was prepared to murder a pregnant woman to secure her luxury apartment at a reasonable price, the killer in Revenge: A Love Story commits the same horrific act as a means of achieving the vengeance, albeit in a more calculated manner. Dream Home was a reportedly troubled project as the director disagreed with leading lady and producer Josie Ho over tone and content, with Pang aiming to make a social satire concerning the high cost of living in Hong Kong, while Ho wanted a hard-core category III horror film. This subsequent 852 Films production can be seen as a second in-house attempt at the ‘slasher’ formula, with the control-insistent Pang being replaced in the director’s chair by Wong, whose past credits include the morgue-set shocker Fu Bo (2003). Wong seems to have no qualms about adhering to the shoot first, ask questions later, school of exploitation cinema since Revenge: A Love Story rarely pauses to contemplate the questionable actions of its protagonist. The title cards that introduce each section of the narrative state, in an often cryptic manner, that revenge is a pointless pursuit, but Wong goes for the jugular, thereby juxtaposing such sermonising with sharply stylised set-pieces.
Wong’s more clear-cut approach to character – which is rooted in genre rather than social-economic conditions – ensures that at least some audience members will side with the vengeance-seeking Kit, who is revealed in flashbacks to be a ‘Lil Bun Boy’ whose crush on mentally-impaired schoolgirl Wing (Sora Aoi) has tragic consequences when she is mistaken for a prostitute. The victimised Wing is almost mistreated as much by the director as by her assailant, hence the casting of adult video idol Aoi in the role, while the police detectives are just lined up for dispatch, but Kit is a compelling figure and Mak makes a credible transition from country bumpkin to killing machine. His boyish features, lean physique and quiet demeanour make Kit scarily ordinary, an unassuming village nobody with an unexpected capacity for cruelty when circumstances take an unfortunate turn. The action scenes in Revenge: A Love Story are staged with ruthless precision and effectively paced to the tempo of Dan Findlay’s electronic score; although the film clocks in at a tight 90 minutes, it would be at least ten minutes shorter if Wong was not so fond of slow-motion flourishes, and these artful compositions sometimes sit uneasily with the otherwise pared-down execution. Despite being less satirical or socially-conscious than Dream Home, the film still exists somewhere between art and exploitation, although the comparative lack of context means that it is more suited to the sensibility of those who like the latter rather than the former. As such, Revenge: A Love Story fits the definition of a ‘difficult film’ in that it is difficult to watch, difficult to unreservedly recommend, yet also difficult to shake off.
My Terracotta preview piece for The Big Picture
Terracotta Far East Film Festival website