Our film opens with Irene (Sylvie Testud) enjoying her day as she gets dinner ready for her husband and her two children. The husband and children come home, it’s peaceful, everybody’s happy and life is good. Of course this is a movie by master crime director Johnnie To and if you are familiar with the works of Johnnie To then you know that peaceful moments are usually followed by sudden, often horrific acts of loud violence. Sure enough, someone knocks on the door, Irene’s husband looks through the keyhole to see who this someone is and a few seconds later… so much for that happy family.
‘Vengeance’ is the name of this movie from Johnnie To and the man looking for this Vengeance would be Irene’s old man, French Chef Francois Costello played by Johnny Hallyday. Now I’ve read that Mr. Hallyday is a popular singer in France. Seriously? That beady eyed, hardened, mean looking bastard is pop singer? While I’m sure Johnny Hallyday is a great pop singer, considering how long his career has lasted, I’ll have you know that he is tailor made to play hard looking, mean, beady eyed bastards.
Anyway Costello arrives in Macau via Paris to identify the family and care for his daughter who somehow survived the slaughter but not without severe injuries. All she wants from her father is revenge and he has promised to do this thing for his baby girl. Problem is the French speaking Costello does not know where to begin to start looking for people in this foreign land but good fortune is about to smile upon him.
This good fortune presents itself in the form of hired killers Kwai (Anthony Wong), Chu (Ka Tung Lam) and Fat Lok (Suet Lam). You know… I realize that Suet Lam is overweight and all but do all of his characters have to be called ‘fat’ something or another? What’s up with that? Regardless, how Costello met these killers probably wasn’t good fortune for a couple of people, but now Costello has eyes and ears to help him find these killers, and beyond, especially considering the generous the offer he’s made these gentlemen for payment.
One little issue Costello has to deal with is some years ago he took a bullet to the head which makes remembering things very difficult with this condition becoming exponentially worse as time ticks on. This is why the man carts around a Polaroid camera to remember things. Like who he’s supposed to kill and why. One of the positives that have come out of this terrible situation is that Costello has made him some homeys for life in Kwai, Chu and Fat Lok who are impressed with his skill with the steel, impressed with his singular focus on revenge and taken aback by his top notch culinary skills. They will do whatever it takes to avenge his daughter’s tragedy even if it means going up against their own Triad boss Mr. Lung (Simon Yam). Even if it means that Costello won’t remember a damn thing they’re doing for him.
While ‘Vengeance’ wasn’t quite the visceral kick in the pants of some of Mr. To’s other Hong Kong criminal masterpieces, particularly ‘The Mission’ which is his favorite film of mine, it is still a very good movie crafted by a great filmmaker. One of the things that Johnny To does with his films, which he does about as well as anyone, is integrating the audience into the lives of the characters we are about to spend time with and he gets the audience to actually care about these characters well-being despite the fact the majority of these characters that occupy his movies are some seriously bad dudes. Part of To’s ability to pull this off can probably attributed to the simple fact that he does have a lot of the usual suspects firmly in place who know how to give the director what he wants when he needs it. You would be hard pressed to find three more professional and accomplished actors in any language than Anthony Wong, Suet Lam and Simon Yam and they are exemplary in this film. Just wondering what Francis Ng was hiding out during this one.
It is, however, Johnny Hallyday’s beady eyed menace which makes this movie move. He says he’s a chef but we know there’s something more under that hard exterior than just making crepes. When his character says he will have his vengeance we believe him. Even though he doesn’t say much, when he does talk it has impact and we feel for him as he mentally deteriorates throughout the movie.
If wanted to nit pick on some issues with the movie we could mention that our crew of Triad hitmen did go from zero to complete and total trust of this guy really, really fast. I mean they had known this guy for all of about a day before they were ready to lay their lives on the line for him. And one has to wonder about the completely absent Macau police force in this movie. The press seemed pretty active in getting the stories of the incessant murdering going on in this world but the police never showed up. Ever.
But that’s just nitpicking. Only in a Johnny To film can we watch a crew of murderous hitmen enjoy a picnic with their families while four other guys, strategically placed in a way that only this director would place them, patiently waits for them to finish so they all can go about the business of shooting at each other. Not too many filmmakers could pull this off and make it interesting. This guy can and this guy does. Over and over again.