Only God Forgives
|Only God Forgives|
|File:Only God Forgives poster.jpg
|Directed by||Nicolas Winding Refn|
|Produced by||Lene Børglum|
|Written by||Nicolas Winding Refn|
|Music by||Cliff Martinez|
|Edited by||Matthew Newman|
|Box office||$10.3 million|
Only God Forgives is a 2013 Danish-French psychological thriller film written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Vithaya Pansringarm. The film was shot on location in Bangkok, Thailand, and, as with Drive, is dedicated to Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky. It competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Julian is an American expatriate who runs a Muay Thai club in Bangkok, Thailand as a front for drug dealing. His older brother Billy rapes and kills an underage sex worker and is cornered by Thai police. Lieutenant Chang allows the girl's father, Choi Yan Lee, to beat Billy to death in the same room Billy killed the girl. Chang then cuts off the father's forearm for allowing his daughter to be a sex worker.
Julian also has his sexual hang-ups. He prefers to be tied up while he watches his favorite prostitute, Mai, touch herself. Julian and his crew go to Choi's kiosk to confront him about his part in Billy's murder but spares his life after hearing the story. Julian's mother, Crystal, arrives in Bangkok to identify Billy's corpse. Crystal demands Julian find and kill the men who killed Billy, but he refuses—believing that Choi had some justification for seeking retribution for the killing of his daughter—infuriating her. Julian has several visions of meeting Chang in a dark room, where Chang cuts Julian's hands off.
Julian brings Mai to meet Crystal, posing as his girlfriend. Crystal sees through the ruse, hurls insults at Mai, and demeans Julian, pronouncing him sexually inferior to his dead brother. Julian humbly accepts all of Crystal's abuse, but afterward turns on Mai, viciously humiliating her, then regretting it. At Crystal's request, one of the fighters at Julian's boxing club assassinates Choi. Later, the police arrive at Julian's club, but Chang concludes that Julian is not Choi's killer. Julian recognizes Chang from his visions and follows him from the boxing club, but Chang seems to disappear into thin air.
After learning that Chang was involved in Billy's death, Crystal meets with an associate, Byron, to arrange Chang's assassination. Three gunmen on motorbikes are sent to kill Chang at a restaurant with machine guns, and two of Chang's men die in the shoot-out. Chang kills two of the gunmen, follows the third on foot, and beats him with a frying pan. This surviving gunman leads Chang to his boss, Li Po, who is feeding his young crippled son. Chang then kills the gunman but spares Li Po after seeing him show affection for his son. Li Po points Chang to Byron, who ordered the hit. Chang finds Byron in a club and tortures him to get answers. Byron reveals the reasoning behind the hit but refuses to give a name.
Julian confronts Chang and, after challenging him, they fight on the bare concrete floor of Julian's boxing venue. Chang, an experienced boxer, quickly beats Julian, who does not land any blows. Afterwards, Crystal tells Julian that Chang has figured out she ordered the hits. Fearful, she pleads with Julian to kill Chang, the same way she asked Julian to kill his own father for her. She promises that after Julian kills Chang, they will go back home, and she will be a true mother to him.
Julian shoots the guard outside Chang's home, and he and his associate Charlie Ling enter Chang's house, intent on ambushing him when he returns. Charlie informs Julian that he was instructed to execute Chang's entire family. Charlie murders the nanny of Chang's daughter as she enters the home, but Julian shoots Charlie before he can kill Chang's young daughter.
Chang and a police officer visit Crystal. She blames everything on Julian, and Chang cuts her throat. Julian returns to the hotel and finds his mother's corpse. In silence, he approaches her body and cuts open her abdomen. Julian slowly places his hand inside of the wound. After leaving and having several surreal visions, Julian stands in a field with Chang, who appears to cut off both of Julian's hands with his sword. The final scene returns to Chang singing at a karaoke bar with an audience of attentive police officers.
- Ryan Gosling as Julian, an American who lives in Bangkok and "is a respected figure in the criminal underworld" according to a production synopsis. Gosling was in negotiations to star in the film in June 2011 after Luke Evans dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Gosling had undertaken Muay Thai training in preparation for the role by that September, which included 2–3 hour daily sessions. Refn also participated in the training. Gosling and Refn had recently worked together on the neo-noir crime drama Drive (2011). Julian only speaks 17 lines throughout the film. "Gosling's character sticking his hands into her [mother] corpse's dead womb... a machination that came from Gosling himself."
- Kristin Scott Thomas as Crystal, Julian's mother, who is described as "a merciless and terrifying mafia godmother" combining elements of Lady Macbeth and Donatella Versace. Scott Thomas was cast by May 2011.
- Vithaya Pansringarm as Lt. Chang/"The Angel of Vengeance", a man that believes himself to be God "[i]n the sense that God in the Old Testament is saying I can be cruel, you have to fear me as I can be kind, you have to love me." Pansringarm did his own Thai boxing and singing for his role. "The character of One Eye went into Drive then went into the Thai police lieutenant. They're the same character played by three different actors [...] a mythological creature that has a mysterious past but cannot relate to reality because he's heightened and he's pure fetish."
- Gordon Brown as Gordon, Julian and Billy's lieutenant. Brown earlier played a walk-on role in Refn's Bronson and a supporting part in Valhalla Rising.
- Rhatha Phongam (Yaya-Ying) as Mai, a prostitute associated with Julian
- Tom Burke as Billy, Julian's older brother
- Byron Gibson as Byron
- Danai Thiengdham as Li Po
- Sahajak Boonthanakit as Pol Col. Kim
- Nophand Boonyai as Charlie
- Teerawat Mulvilai as Ko Sam
- Kovit Wattanakul as Choi Yan Lee
- Wittchuta Watjanarat as Ma Fong
Refn has said that "[f]rom the beginning, [he] had the idea of a thriller produced as a western, all in the Far East, and with a modern cowboy hero." He originally planned to direct Only God Forgives directly after Valhalla Rising (2009), but he accepted Gosling's request to direct Drive instead. Gosling has described the script of Only God Forgives as "the strangest thing I've ever read and it's only going to get stranger." Like Drive, Only God Forgives was largely shot chronologically and scenes were often edited the day they were shot.
Footage was screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Refn drew a connection between Only God Forgives and Drive, saying that "[Only God Forgives] is very much a continuation of that language"—"[i]t's based on real emotions, but set in a heightened reality. It's a fairy tale."
The film received a very divided response at its Cannes press screening; it was booed by many of the audience of journalists and critics while also receiving a standing ovation. It received a primarily negative response from mainstream critics: review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 40% based on reviews from 149 critics, with a weighted average of 5.1/10 and the site's consensus states: "Director Refn remains as visually stylish as ever, but Only God Forgives fails to add enough narrative smarts or relatable characters to ground its beautifully filmed depravity." Metacritic assigns the film a weighted average rating of 37 out of 100 based on the reviews of 39 professional critics.
Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph reflected concerns over the film in a three out of five star review. "The film's characters are non-people; the things they say to each other are non-conversations, the events they enact are non-drama," he wrote. But he praised Refn for following up his commercially successful film Drive with "...this abstruse, neon-dunked nightmare that spits in the face of coherence and flicks at the earlobes of good taste".
Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave it five out of five stars, calling it gripping and praising the "pure formal brilliance" of every scene and frame, though he notes that it will "have people running for the exits, and running for the hills" with its extreme violence. In an alternative review published in The Guardian, John Patterson was highly critical of the film, citing its lack of originality and the low degree of focus on plot: "Somewhere in here is a story that Refn can hardly be bothered to tell... I feel the ghosts of other movies—his influences, his inspirations—crowding in on his own work, suffocating him, and somehow leaving less of him on screen."
Bill Gibron of PopMatters wrote "David Lynch must be laughing. If he had created something like Only God Forgives, substituting his own quirky casting for the rather staid choices made by actual director Nicolas Winding Refn, he would have walked away from Cannes 2013 with yet another Palme d'Or, another notch in his already sizeable artistic belt, and the kind of critical appreciation that only comes when a proven auteur once again establishes his creative credentials."
Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave this film a positive review, giving it three and a half stars saying: "Refn's follow-up effort to the similarly polarizing Drive (which I thought was flat-out great) is even more stylized and daring. Drive star Ryan Gosling (who is clearly interested in carving out a career with at least as many bold, indie-type roles as commercial, leading-man fare) strikes a Brando pose playing Julian, a smoldering, seemingly lethal American who navigates the seediest sides of Bangkok."
In 2015, the film was included in The Guardian's top 50 films of the decade so far.
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