"Revenge" A Love Story (2010)

Directed by: Wong Ching-Po
Written by: Wong Ching-Po & Jill Leung
Producer: Conroy Chan
Starring: Juno Mak, Sola Aoi, Lau Wing, Chin Siu-Ho, Wong Shu-Tong & Tony Ho

Returning to the Category III rating after his co-directed debut Fu Bo, in between Wong Ching-Po got the big hitters of Hong Kong cinema together for two triad outings (Jiang Hu and Ah Sou). Criticized (and rightly so in the case of the former) for his indulgent style, his debut however was partly a meditation on death. So with "Revenge" A Love Story, focus is back onto darkness, revenge, hatred, corruption and the rotten. Knowing full well it pushes boundaries, Wong Ching-Po manages to largely argue there's nothing rotten with his treatment of topic and content here.

A serial killer (Juno Mak, future director of Rigor Mortis) targets pregnant women and their husbands. During a traffic stop the police chase him down and bring him in. Interrogated by Jeff (Chin Siu-Ho) and Kwok Hua (Tony Ho), Mak's character Chan Kit says that this would not be the first time he's been framed by the police. In flashback Chan Kit and mentally challenged girl Cheung Wing (Sola Aoi) fall for each other but are scarred after a cruel night at the police station...

Based on an original story by Juno Mak, Wong Ching-Po is certainly relentless with how he depicts human corruption, squashed innocence and the violence within the cycle of revenge but he's not gleeful about it. There's certainly lack of hope that he does argue makes sense for this nightmarish scenario set on the outskirts of all things urban. Although his cryptic chapter headings are pretentious and never connect well to the visuals, thankfully Revenge... as an audio/visual piece has nothing complex and symbolic hovering around it. Rather, Wong has learnt restraint, to fight and stand by a vision but that doesn't mean it needs to be 100% evidently present for us to notice. For instance, the reveal of human remains early in the movie comes with no style nor a boom on the soundtrack to emphasize shock, the film's string of initial deaths are depicted via grim aftermaths so there is that honed balance of toning down the frame but punching through with effect nonetheless.

Chan Kit and Cheung Wing are in a hellish world that makes its presence known to them physically and mentally. Attempted rape, torture, gleeful and corrupt police officers making it their right to rape what they perceive to be not a mentally challenged girl but a quiet prostitute right there in the police station, the sense of discomfort and loss of hope is strong. But not too strong where it wanders into lack of skill and belief in the material. No, Wong is methodical with revelations going forward, takes Juno Mak and Sola Aoi on sometimes non-verbal journeys to good effect (with him being more of a wild animal and she's reverted into a shell), he even sidesteps explaining why cops have become so corrupted and inhumane and why their disapproving colleagues do not step up. This is a view of morals having been drowned ages ago and all that's left is to channel rage, hate and violence. A pessimistic statement that lands on the positive side of cinematic Hong Kong nasty in the new millennium.

Although he doesn't always avoid said pretentiousness (in particular towards the end) but the tropes of the revenge film, "Revenge" - A Love Story also breaks it down to the bare essentials: Making violence straightforward, dialogue minimal and there's no one that will emerge as a winner here. The movie largely does however.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson