Perhaps naturally after the huge success if Drive, Nicholas Winding Refn wanted to totally twist our melons and see just how far the clamouring audience waiting for his next ultra violent collaboration with Ryan Gosling was willing to go.
And perhaps naturally, not everyone was willing to go as far as he took them with Only God Forgives.
The positives to this film are huge. The visuals, my God the visuals - in turn beautiful and horrific, and the all pervading air of coolness is once again at its peak. Winding Refn makes cult B movie fodder high art, and obscure high art at that. If Drive was an American pulp thriller blockbuster shot through with a European sensibility via Grimms fairytale, Shane, GTA and the pop culture of the 70s and 80s, Only God Forgives is unmistakeably Eastern Asian, with Gosling just as supplanted into the locale as Eastwood was in Leone's spaghetti westerns.
But the visuals...Bangkok on screen is so palpable I feel like I'm in a cold sweat watching it so drenched am I from the second hand heat and so chilled am I from the perpetual air conditioning. I feel like I am there and that's really something. I know I'm repeating myself about the visuals here but that's primarily because this is what the film is - a series of visuals rather than a narrative. At best it feels like I'm experiencing a dream right there on the screen.
It's an impressive piece of direction. Is it an enjoyable film? No not really. Not on this first viewing. It's just too obscure, too aloof to engage the viewer. The narrative isn't there, but then I don't think the narrative there on the screen is primarily Winding Refn's main concern - it's the allusions and the metaphors in the piece that totally interest him and I'm sure they'll interest me more on future viewings (perhaps with the aid of the audio commentary) Like Kill List before it, this is a film that impresses without one necessarily enjoying fully.
The cast are very good with Gosling doing his usual total underplaying to the point that he could be sleepwalking through it all. But that doesn't matter because, if anything given how hallucinatory it is, it's potentially to its credit!
Then there's Kristen Scott Thomas; in recent years whilst I've really, totally admired her French film performances, I have wondered when she would return to English language cinema. I have to say though, I would never have predicted her return to be playing a part that feels like a Sharon Stone or Jessica Lange cast off! But she does it very very well. But the most captivating actor in the production is Vithaya Pansringarm, a true 'Angel of Vengeance' who is responsible for the most gruesome violence in the film.