Julien, a man of very few words, runs a kickboxing club in Bangkok with Billy his older brother. They have a troubled past which is rarely alluded too, but accounts for the fact that they are now far from home. Julien seems in a perpetual trance drifting through the city and relying on strippers and prostitutes for some sexual relief. Billy is just the same but he obviously is deranged and so ends up viciously raping and murdering one. With the complicity of the police the father of the victim then kills Billy and starts off an unending avalanche of bloody brutality.
Crystal, the siblings mother, and a highly successful drug dealer flies into town from the U.S. to avenge her eldest son’s death when it is apparent that Julian is reluctant to do so. She is not reluctant to get her hands dirty …. not literally as she is bewigged and decked out like one of the cast of the Real Housewives ….. but she will ensure that the thugs she employs get revenge for her.
She, and everyone else, are up against a sword-wielding retired policeman who has resolved to single-handedly scourge the city of it’s corrupt underbelly of brothels and fight clubs. When he is not relentlessly slicing off body parts and cutting them up, he loves to croon pop songs in karaoke bars.
This Danish/Thai production reunites director Refn with Ryan Gosling but this is really not in the same league as their 2011 smash-hit ‘Drive’. With such a sparse screenplay the movie relies on its dramatic visuals to carry the story ….. and its highly-stylised sets and beautiful cinematography are stunning ….. but it lacks a real soul. I had read somewhere that Refn was quoted as saying that he wanted to make a film about a man who wanted to fight God. Hmmm somehow that’s not what he ended up with.
I’m still unsure what to make of Gosling’s performance as so much of it was internalised, but Kristin Scott Thomas’s rather outrageous turn as the domineering trashy Crystal was nothing short of a sheer delight. For me she was a refreshing breath of fresh air in this dark heavy plot, and was an inspired piece of casting.
P.S. I’ve never professed to be anything less than subjective in my reviews, so as I cannot abhor such an excessive use of violence it’s impossible for me to be objective about a movie like this which completely overdoses on it. For some reason (that even I have trouble fathoming out) I found the use of it in ‘Drive’ much more acceptable.
In US Theaters now and also on AMAZON VOD