Hong Kong is once again edging away from its rather commercial, "safe" image. Point in case the latest slasher turns dramatic cop thriller from director Ching-Po Wong. Hong Kong's legendary CatIII rating has risen from the dead and has turned up some successful titles over the past couple of months, but Wong is eager to show that it's not all sleaze and schlock that gets branded as CatIII. Revenge: A Love Story is first class genre cinema with a mean edge.
Revenge: A Love Story is the stylistic follow up of 852 Films's Dream Home and the second film produced under Josie Ho's film label. Where Dream Home brought new life to the Hong Kong slasher genre, Revenge is a more complex beast altogether. It's not a simple genre film, rather a mix of genre elements taken to their extreme and gelled together by a solid dramatic bottom line. The result is a mean, nasty yet strong and controlled film that holds up well amongst all its indirect competitors.
You probably may know director Ching-Po Wong from his second feature Gong Wu (Blood Brothers), but it was his first film (Fu Bo) that impressed me the most. I don't remember much specifics about the story or events in Fu Bo, but those dark, morbid, underlying vibes coming from the film never really left me. In that sense Wong was the ideal man to tackle this film as he is definitely one of the few Hong Kong masters of cold, relentless cinema working there today.
Revenge: A Love Story follows the blossoming relationship between Kit, a dimwitted bun salesman and Wing, a mentally challenged schoolgirl. Wong fragments his story though and starts with a series of coldblooded murders performed by Kit. In both cases Kit kills a pregnant mother and relieves her from her child. The reasons behind this sudden switch remain vague. The police catch Kit, but with a little help from Wing they are forced to let him go again. The exact link between these events are cleared up in the following chapters of the film.
Visually Wong's film belongs to the best that Hong Kong has to offer. The lighting and framing of each shot is unbelievably stylish, creating a cold yet fascinating world of washed out colors, dark and dreadful locations and a scarcity of happy, colorful moments. And the good thing is that Wong keeps the level of visual detail high throughout the entire film. The story never gets in the way of the visuals, as is often the case in this type of film. My only critique would be one or two rather obvious and technically imperfect CG shots about halfway through that really didn't add much to the rest of the film.
The soundtrack is equally classy. Definitely not as in your face as the visuals, but it serves its purpose in the background. Usually I prefer a score that's a bit more present, but the subtlety of the music here really helps to establish the dark and brooding atmosphere. I actually went back to check the music a second time and when you start paying attention to it you'll notice the skill and perfect timing with which is was edited underneath the film.
Juno Mak is the unmistakable star of the film, but most of the media attention went to the inclusion of Japanese AV star Sola Aoi in the main cast. Fans will be disappointed to hear she remains clothed for most of the film, haters will be glad to hear she actually does a pretty good job acting in a regular film. But it's really Mak that deserves most of the attention. He does a stellar job of brining life to all different aspects of his character. The role of Kit is not an easy one as he transforms a couple of times during the film, but Mak keeps it believable and excels in every transformation.
Even though you might not see this film listed as a horror film (which it really isn't), there's some gruesome stuff in here out-nastying most of the regular horror films I've seen. And I'm not even talking about the graphic depiction of the formerly pregnant corpses (check à l'Intérieur), but more simple things like Kit scraping away the skin on his fingers. These scenes are as nasty as they come and nearly had me looking away from the screen.
Straying from the actual gore, the film also contains some grim and cold-hearted scenes, especially near the finale, resulting in an unpleasant punch in the gut. Wong keeps his story under control and uses the various chapters to form a cohesive plot, with all different strands comes together in a sprawling finale. Here he also delivers a surprisingly human message, though through a narrative quote rather than through any of the film's actual events. It's a welcome change of tone that makes the film a little easier to digest, while keeping the gut punch intact.
Revenge: A Love Story plays like a modern Hong Kong version of Se7en, only better, more tense and not as restrained as Fincher's film. Ching-Po Wong proves the perfect director for this and delivers a film that will remain with you some days after the initial viewing. Revenge: A Love Story lacks any weak points, excels on almost every level and enhances the CatIII rating with some damn stylish film making. And if you thought Dream Home was just a lucky hit for Ho's 852 Films, this film goes to the limit to prove you wrong. Excellent stuff, comes highly recommended.