The second film from Josie Ho’s 852 Films after the brilliant “Dream Home” is another rather extreme Category III Serial Killer story, once again told from a more sympathetic viewpoint of the killer himself. Whilst it isn’t half the film “Dream Home” is, it’s not a bad, taut little number, and certainly no waste of a interested film watchers time. Once again, there is a bit more going on here than straight up tension and gore.
“Revenge: A Love Story” starts off following the exploits of a serial killer, Kit (Juno Mak) who not only kills a couple of Policemen, but brutally butchers their pregnant wives, cutting out their unborn children in the process. However, whilst escaping from the scene of one of his crimes, he is apprehended by some members of the Undercover Police Team. This is all in the first 20 minutes, and it then becomes clear that there is a little more going on here – Kit feels wronged by the Police, and talks about him being framed in the past. We then get a lengthy flashback detailing his previous relationship with a young mentally-challenged girl called Wing (Japanese umm “adult” film star Sola Aoi – link at your peril), and how they were both terribly wronged by these self same Policemen. We then basically get a revenge thriller, with everyone attempting to get revenge for their own sense of being wronged in bloody and fatal ways.
Director Wong Ching-Po has been talked about on this blog before, with the rather good Jiang Hu, and he certainly has improved a lot in his style. He is guilty of a lot wrong, it frankly does sometimes come across as a bit arty and pretentious. However, the story is very tight, cramming in everything that needs to be said in less than 90 minutes, The violence and gore is graphic (although the actual acts are rather hidden, we do get to see the after-effects), yet it does visually look extremely polished for what is essentially a genre piece. A couple of shots are actually rather fantastic (I am thinking of one in particular, where we pan back inside a moving bus), and with some more control and stronger editing, I think he is capable of something quite special in the future.
Sola Aoi is far better than I expected – she doesn’t have to speak very much, and I am not sure I am quite convinced that she can pass as an underage school girl with her “assets”. Sure, we do get a gratuitous shower scene, along with some other sexual content, but these are not the cornerstone of her performance. She is a simple (in both senses of the word) young girl who loves and wants to be loved. Juno Mak is also interesting – he is not the sharpest tool in the woodshed either, but I do get the sense of his frustration with the world. The Central Love Story is actually rather well done, the sweet tenderness between Kit and Wing works for me, as does the way it quickly falls apart.
But the film does have issues. It falls squarely into the realm of “Bad People Doing Bad Things To Bad People”. Sola Aoi’s character aside (and she does something pretty grim early on), these are all pretty repulsive people. The cops are corrupt, Kit is murdering innocents as well as those who wronged him. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for either side which means you are not invested in their fate. The Director is also guilty of trying out too many tricks without any real thematic reason other than they look rather cool. The structure of the film also feels a little one-sided – I wonder if the opening act had maybe gone on a little longer that the eventual reveal would have meant a little more. The end sequence also feels just wrong – again I get the idea that revenge never provides solace or redemption – but we could have realised this at the end of the third act.
So all in all, not a bad little film, despite the idiosyncrasies of its execution. It gains back a lot of credit for not overstaying its welcome. I do wonder though who the audience is – it isn’t graphic enough or tension-filled enough for the horror audience (there are no scares), and it has nothing much to say outside of “The Hong Kong Police are corrupt” and “Revenge only metes out more Revenge”. But it also wins points for being true to itself, and not kowtowing to Mainland sensibilities. Mildly Recommended.