If Daddy's little girl got hurt, you know darn well that Daddy will spare no effort in hunting the perpetrators down, especially when the police is inept, and turning to the other side of the law for revenge seem all the more attractive. Cost isn't a factor too, since everything has a price, especially with a dad willing to sell everything just to see his brand of justice get exacted.
Welcome to Johnnie To's world of hitmen and a tale of vengeance, set in the cities of Macau and Hong Kong, with his regular Milkyway cast and crew set to deliver an all too familiar premise, now joined by French actor Johnny Hallyday as Costello, a chef who's naturally more than meets the eye, being able to assemble a stripped handgun blindfolded and in record time compared to seasoned veterans. His daughter and her family got gunned down in cold blood, and working against time and with only an injured ear as a clue, he capitalizes on a chance encounter with the hitmen trio of Kwai (Anthony Wong), Chu (Lam Ka Tung) and Fatty Lok (Lam Suet), who for plenty of Euros, a watch, a restaurant and an apartment in Paris, take up this assignment for quite the good deal as it is.
Only of course for Wai Ka-Fai's story to put them in a dilemma of sorts, when they have to consider whether to honour an agreement with someone they know little about, or to do so with their long time contract employer (played to evil delight by Simon Yam), fully aware that crossing the latter will bring about some drastic results, akin to biting the hand that feeds you.
And of course with such consequences come plenty of room for some balletic shootouts, only that the initial big one, with Eddie Cheung, Felix Wong and Ng Ting Yip turned out to be a dark affair under a moon shadowed by cloud cover, with black leather jackets not helping much in knowing who's shooting who in the dark. Otherwise, there were some quirky scenes such as the innovating rolling of rubbish bales to act as sandbags in an open plain, and the finale which will see you rooting for just desserts to be served.
Johnnie To has included plenty of his signature style in this film, from stand offs to no holds barred shootouts with a myriad of semi and automatic handguns and rifles, it's like an education session with a firearms nut. Which of course entertains since the cast, already so familiar with his style, and familiar with what's expected of them, pulled this off oozing plenty of machismo along the way. I cannot for the life of me think of any other non-resident actors who can waltz into a Johnnie To film and look and feel like his gangsters, though Johnny Hallyday comes close with a dogged mission, and a look that has seen better, glorious days.
There are some shades of To's earlier films such as The Mission and Exiled, which isn't too difficult to draw some parallels from since they start essentially a similar core cast, and with some scenes which I thought were uncannily lifted from Exiled with the enemy assault and flight from the fire escape, and there's almost always a scene in the rain with umbrellas, a throwback to other Milkyway productions like Sparrow and Eye in the Sky. There's a twist in the story involving a character in the film which I will not dwell or make refeences to (since you're likely to go Oh, that looked like a plot element from some other film), but suffice to say that that little wee bit that came unexpected, provided more gravitas to the title Vengeance, since it now takes on a whole new dimension altogether, with more action promised of course, but examining the notion of the act of Vengeance, on how different it will be altogether when one no longer remembers the purpose it's supposed to serve.
It's strictly for Johnnie To's fans who know what to expect from the master and now poster boy of Hong Kong cinema, and probably a good introduction too for those new to his films. Those sitting on the fence will wonder what the fuss is about with this film being part of the official selection at this year's Cannes Film Festival, but over here, this film is making a fuss, especially for me, and I'll give you a reason.
For once, we can watch a Hong Kong film with Cantonese dialogue left intact. While local film Blood Ties had Cantonese used as well, this film builds upon that goodwill extended by the powers that be. True, Vengeance has a chunk of dialogue in English, with the other chunk predominantly in Cantonese, and I'll take that. If this is an example of the rules being relaxed slowly, then I'm all for it because nothing, absolutely nothing, beats having to hear the cast emoting in their natural voices, rather than to have someone else step in to voiceover their roles. And of course, if we all don't turn into gangsters or start speaking Cantonese en masse, I think the film would've made the point that not everyone will be negatively influenced by such baseless concerns to begin with.
I smell change coming already, and let's hope it really does with Vengeance being that small step taken in the right direction!