Movie Review: “Only God Forgives” – Brutal. Bloody. Brilliant. (Part Two)

Written by Leo Panasyuk August 19, 2013

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Continuing on from part one of my review, this part of my review deals with the symbolism of hands, importance of music and the character of Chang in the film. You can re-visit part one of my review by clicking here.

“Wanna Fight?”

Despite the fact that Gosling is the film’s central figure, most of the action tends to revolve around Vithaya Pansringarm’s character of Chang. Allow me to get this out of the way first: Pansringarm is one of this film’s definite ‘must-see’ points. This is the first time I – and likely many others – have heard of this actor but after seeing, no… experiencing his performance, I can honestly say I would like to see more of this actor as he has phenomenal potential. Chang possesses an aura of mystery as you never know exactly what his motivations are outside of the realm of his duties as an officer of the law and this deliberate ambiguity is an intelligent way for the audience to formulate their own theories as to who he really is behind the scenes. Besides his obvious role as a police officer, he also acts as judge, jury and executioner as most of the scenes he is featured in have him doling out justice to law-breakers and/or criminals. Then comes the karaoke.

This film features quite a number of scenes of Chang singing karaoke and in Thai culture, karaoke isn’t simply a popular social activity but is instead regarded as something almost religious and sacred to the people who perform it. You won’t see anyone singing along but instead, they give their absolute, undivided attention whilst sitting motionless as statues. Though these scenes do take you away from the plot and action, I personally enjoyed their presence as both an example of the filmmakers’ respect for the Thai culture and as almost a heavenly serenade amid a film almost solely centered around vengeance and the violence which follows. The music in this film ranges from tender and soothing to sinister and destructive and Cliff Martinez deserves much praise for creating such a powerful score.

The serenity and peacefulness of the karaoke scenes does well to break up the bloody violence.

The serenity and peacefulness of the karaoke scenes does well to break up the bloody violence.

Mano; Destra & Sinistra.

Continuing with the topic of clashing colours in the film as well as the correlation between love and hate, hands are an extremely important symbol in the film as they represent a means of care as well as carnage. I won’t spoil anything but keeps hands – and by extension (no pun intended), arms – in mind when watching certain scenes and you’ll see just how much emphasis Refn has placed on them. During one scene in which Julian and Chang square off in hand-to-hand combat, there are shots of a statue (as seen below) that interrupt the action and the importance of this statue is the fact that it is of a fighter with his hands raised – a symbol of power, fortitude and strength, all characteristics which Chang embodies… but not Julian as it’s not so much a fight between the two as it is a full-on beat-down.

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Overall

Some may view this film as unforgivable – I view it as unforgettable. “Only God Forgives” is undoubtedly one of my favourite films of this year and is another golden reason why I adore Nicolas Winding Refn as a director. I won’t lie to you and say that the film is approachable by any measure – truth is, it’s not. This isn’t a film for everyone and I respect that. Though, if you can sit through some rather brutal violence and appreciate some of the artistry presented here, you may enjoy this film quite a bit. It definitely falls into the ‘don’t-knock-it-til-you-try-it’ categeory and, in my opinion, is worth at least one view just for the sake of formulating an opinion. In the end, “Only God Forgives” is a brilliant work of art by one of the most talented directors working today and my only hope is that he continues collaborating with Ryan Gosling as they may be the ‘Scorsese/DiCaprio’ of indie films.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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About Leo Panasyuk

A fan of all things film, Leo never really lets himself get tied down to one specific genre. He's always interested in watching new and old films and especially loves the IMAX format. When he's not choosing which movie to watch next, he's studying Film and English at Western University.

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