Story: Costello (Johnny Hallyday), a restaurant owner and chef in France, comes to Macau after his son-in-law and his
grandchildren were killed by hired assassins. Only his daughter Irene (Sylvie Testud) survived severely injured and asks
her father to take revenge for her. By chance, Costello runs into Kwai (Anthony Wong), Chu (Lam Ka Tung) and Lok (Lam Suet)
who just did a hired assassination for their boss Fung (Simon Yam) in the hotel Costello found accommodation at. Costello hires
them to find out who the killers of his family are and get them out of the way. His only problem is that a bullet is stuck in
his brain which will result in him losing his memory in the near future. Before that day he must have taken revenge for his
daughter. Fortunately, he has chosen three of the best for this job and so Kwai and his friends have soon tracked down the
killers. However, a surprise is waiting for them when they find out who their client was...
Review: "Vengeance" is a co-production between Hong Kong and France. The reason for that is easy. Director Johnnie To
had one certain wish waiting to be realized for years which was to make a movie with Alain Delon in the leading role.
Unfortunately, Delon suddenly wasn't interested anymore, maybe he preferred to play in such fantastic blockbusters like
"Asterix at the Olympic Games"... Anyway, the french producers recommended Johnny Hallyday, France's "Elvis Presley", to
take on the role and he actually agreed despite already being 66 years old. The end product is a movie that is apparently supposed to
introduce westerners to Johnnie To. Sadly, the director seems to be a little bit too reserved and eventually delivers one of
his worst movies of the last few years (which isn't that bad, nonetheless). However, Wai Ka-Fai is also to be blamed for that as
his script has a lot of logical gaps and also doesn't really serve us with anything new. Despite To's continuously high technical
finesse "Vengeance" can't be called anything more than a disappointment.
Why does it always have to be the worst movies of remarkable Asian directors that have to find their way to western audiences? I regard myself as a big Johnnie To fan since this director proves to have such a great sense for technical fine-tuning, picture composition and building up tension that he most likely could make a low budget movie with his eyes closed and it still would look damn cool. Yet, in "Vengeance" To tries to restrain himself too much and most of all the script only offers worn-out motives which we have already seen in other movies of his in a much more elaborated fashion. If you want to be mean - and as a To-fan I have the right to be especially critical - you could say that there were some ideas straight out stolen. Concepts that are reheated for western audiences. Somehow this makes you feel betrayed and ask yourself what To actually wanted to achieve with this film. Hopefully, he doesn't want to pave his way to Hollywood because it looks like as if Johnnie To's creativeness would fall by the wayside in that case. And we already know how this will end taking a look at John Woo...
Let's get back to the movie's biggest problem: the screenplay. Wai Kai-Fai proved with his recent films "Written By" and "Mad Detective" that he is capable of writing some good scripts. But this time he simply takes old themes and weaves them around characters that aren't drawn out at all. It's a shame with what little such great actors like Anthony Wong or Simon Yam have to work here. No character exploration also means that there is no real buddy factor among the professional killers. Somehow we never really get close to them and that's even the more fatal as we are already expecting right from the start that not every one of them is surviving the showdown. Since we can't weave an emotional bond to the killers, which is normally one of the biggest strengths of To's films, we also can't shed any tear for them. If you then consider the fact that you inevitably feel reminded of "The Mission" and "Exiled" because they share a similar story with "Vengeance" and also resolve around a group of professional killers, you might see "Vengeance" as the final chapter of this inofficial trilogy, which is only connected by the same theme. And it's a truely disillusioning wrap-up and none of the small winks and allusions to the "prequels" can change that.
How much the script failed to deliver also gets quite obvious in a scene in which the three killers are discussing what the meaning of taking revenge is if you can't remember anymore what you are taking revenge for as in the case of Costello. There was enough room for some philosophical thoughts but everything remains a side note at best. The script has the most problems when it comes to Costello. That is because he is just as little elaborated as the rest of the characters. While Anthony Wong and Co. manage to get out one or two more facets out of their roles thanks to their expertise in the business Hallydays portrayal looks painfully wooden and stiff. Moreover, his character oftentimes acts incomprehensibly stupid (but this is something he shares with the others, too). Even worse there are some really bad english lines he delivers which generate a B-movie flair that doesn't fit to the expensive looking rest of the film. Many of the widescreen shots and the cinematography by Cheng Siu-keung, who has worked for To on many other occasions, look breathtakingly beautiful. Once again the use of light and shadow as well as the nice sets create a great atmosphere. If it wouldn't be for the rest...
If you look for something thrilling in "Vengeance" you sadly won't find it which is the more irritating as the director is actually famous for creating fantastic peaks of tension. This time thrilling scenes are not really to be found anywhere despite a nice soundtrack asking for it. Nonetheless, Johnnie To once more shows his inventiveness when it comes to shoot-outs. There is the moonlight that becomes a tactical element in a shoot-out in the forest or giant paper cubes which are rolled by the shooters in front of them and are used as a cover during the showdown. Here, To actually shows western audiences why he is one of the best directors in Hong Kong. Still, you get the feeling as if To would only show a light version of his true style.
Johnny Hallyday is hugely outshined by the stars of the Milkyway-factory and simply can't convince as the hero of the story. Moreover, he often just seems lost in this film, which on the other hand might by intentional as Costello (the name being an allusion to Alain Delon's character Jef Costello in "Le samourai" which in some respects served as a model for To's film) is a stranger in Hong Kong and has no one to turn to except the three hired killers.
The carelessly reused ideas and the half baked script are the biggest flaws of "Vengeance". Technically, the film might be top, but with the money To had at hand here he could have done three better movies...