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LEKHA SHANKAR


An exchange of Film News, from Thailand, India and other film-spaces across the world.

 


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‘ Only God Forgives’ - Visual, Aural, Sensory, Carnal Film

                                               

                                                       

 

                                    tP

    

                                                       

 

 

                                                      ' ONLY GOD FORGIVES ’

                       Like Cannes and New York, Bangkok audiences either  Love or Hate the Film!

It’s not a film, it's a trance, it's a seance, it’s Nicolas Refn's blood-red, soul-full reaction to the magic, mystery, mystique of Asia, with all its symbols, illusions, contradictions,and karmic retributions

 

Nicolas Refn’s ‘Only God Forgives’  has just been released in Bangkok, and is eliciting the same love-hate reactions, as at Cannes, New York, and the rest of the world.!

This is not a film that one can love, or even understand-  it’s an ‘experience’,as Ryan Gosling said rightly, in New York.

He also said that the movie was like a ‘drug’ ,where one could go on a high, or a low.

I belong to the minority group who went on a ‘high’- and I’m still floating high !

Infact, so do the characters in the film, who just keep ‘floating’ around from one space to another, with fixed expressions and  zombie-like movements. Until the  ‘drug’ hits them,  and then, they explode with vile words (as  Juliana’s mother, Crystal, does,in that unfogettably nasty confrontation-scene) and viler actions ( as ‘Chang’ does, in that excruciatingly violent bar-scene).

But all the while, the bar-girls calmly keep their eyes shut. And after the bloody act, Chang coolly sings a karoke song.

 This double entendre movement is the ying and yang of the story.  ‘Only God Forgives’  is not a film, it's a trance, it's a seance, it’s Nicolas Refn's blood-red, soul-full reaction to the magic, mystery, mystique of Asia, with all its symbols, illusions, contradictions, and  karmic retributions. The ‘hand’ is the most potent symbol , particularly affecting Julian, which is why he meekly offers his hands to ‘God’ and his retributory sword,  in the last scene.

As for ‘God’, this is not a forgiving ‘God’, but a vengeful one, and  like the other characters in the film, he’s one more marionette in a film that plays out an elaborate charade of life and death

There is method in Director Refn’s madness, and every word, action, scenario is  ruthlessly orchestrated  by the master-marionetteer, master-puppeteer, call him what you will.

If you are looking for story, emotion,dialogue,  this is not your film. If  you are looking for action, this is also not your film. But if you are looking for a sensory, aural ,carnal ’experience’, that hits you at gut-level, this is the one-stop movie.

Refn calls it an ‘instinctive’ film, and it is indeed a film that gets under your skin-or not.

It got under my skin, and I’m still smarting from it.

As for the individual performances, it’s not often that you see a little-known actor from Asia, play ‘God’, in a hi-profile European-Hollywood film ,and get away with murder- literally. Actor Vithaya Pansringarm, who was the stoic, calm monk, stalking a killer in  ‘Mindfulness of Murder’ , rises to ‘God’ stalking all evil-doers, in this film-and he could not ask for a better role, or give a better performance!
The  ballet and martial artiste  said he did not care if he did not do another film. He does not need to, as he’s given a performance that will be remembered a long time, and a film that will be discussed a long time.

As for little-known Thai actress Yaya Ying Ratha Phongam, hers is a small but intense performance, more impressive because she hardly mouths any words, but expresses  all with her eyes. She confessed that she did atleast ‘30 takes’ for every scene- but they have  been well worth it.

Kristin Scott Thomas, is ‘God’s chief adversary in the film, and with her bleached hair, painted nails, viper-tongue, and Oedipic longings for her sons, seems to have set a new bar for ‘villainess’ roles. She could possibly teach a thing or two, to the always-hated Gertrude, the mother of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

As for lead-star hero Ryan Gosling, his role is not hero-centric, as in his earlier movie ‘Drive’ with Director Refn, but  he deserves credit for effectively culling out his pathetic impotence in the film, including several scenes with a black eye and  ugly bruised face.

Director Nicolas Refn may be quirky, funny, eccentric. But there’s no doubt he has a style and vision of his own, and makes no compromises about them.

Full credit must also  be given, ofcourse, to his cinematographer Larry Smith, music composer Cliff Martinez, production designer Beth Mickle, as well as Art Designers Russel Barnes,Witoon Suanyai, for splendidly carrying out his vision.

To a Bangkok-based viewer like me, the most interesting quality of the movie, was that it was totally a 'Thai' movie, in every blue vein of its  blood-red sequences. The Thai film-team ,who this writer watched the film with, in Bangkok, described the whole experience of  shooting the film as ‘awesome’, and one word to  comment on the director’s rivetting style of film-making - ‘Refn-esque.’

The scenarios, characters, utterances, musicality are uncannily authentic ,and Refn’s intense research through a six-month stay in the ‘City of Angels’ ,seems to have produced an astoundingly devilish film, in Amazing Thailand.

 

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About LEKHA SHANKAR

SHANKAR LEKHA

I'm an Indian film-writer, based in Bangkok, and write for publications in India & Thailand. I also coordinate and curate film programs in the two countries, at cultural centres/clubs, film festivals.


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