When you see a revenge film, you expect to see the reason for the revenge later taken in the film. It’s predictable and commonplace. The protagonist created out of these circumstances is indigent in their cause and the viewer feels no remorse for the people he justifiably kills because after all, we would do the same thing if we lived in fantasy world with skewed consequences and possessed their abilities.
This is the anthesis of Johnny To’s Vengeance but the film soon adds a team element rarely seen (Spielberg’s Munich) and a Memento aspect as well. These two elements alter Vengeance (2009) from your standard revenge film. No longer is it merely one man getting in and out of impossible situations single handedly. After the revenge team is formed or contracted, there is a collaboration between them. When Francois Costello (Johnny Hallday)’s mental condition becomes known and part of the storyline, it is the team, Kwai (Anthony Wong), Fay Lok (Lam Suet), and Chu (Lam Ka-Tung), that remembers his cause for him and continues on even though they do not have to since Costello does not even remember he hired them. They do it because although they are killers, they are honorable as well.
From the second act to the last, Costello shifts from a purposeful father of Irene Thompson (Sylvie Testud) to one of a child-like state were surrogates take care of and look after him and at one point guide him (on his mission) as if he were blind.
Not instantly present, noticeable film noir moments begin springing up: first with George Fung (Simon Yam)’s motivation to kill his cheating girlfriend and second when Costello is confused in the rain (the lingering camera on him). This contract killing decision springboards many of the events that later transpire in the film. There is also a scene involving one character following another into a subway station. Not quite as long as the camera work in Le Samourai but then again, Alain Delon is not playing Costello either, though he was asked.
Having learned from the exciting, disjointed shootouts sequences he captured in Fulltime Killer, one would expect nothing less than great gunplay and that is exactly what they get in Vengeance (2009). Of note is the rolling trash and the last gun battle, where Costello is guided on his kill quest by flag stickers. The protagonist and antagonist (George Fung) both adapt quickly to the situation, one quicker than the other, but by the end of the scene-where there is a brief Infernal Affairs moment, the viewer is transfixed and waiting to see what happens next.
Johnny To’s Vengeance is a revenge, action movie more complex than most of the films found in this genre. There is more going on in front of the lens and more thoughts transpired behind it, before the filming ever began, as Vengeance (2009) is meant to be more than what mets the eye. Vengeance (2009) was made and written by a cinephile (Wai Ka-Fai) for cinephiles. Vengeance (2009) is meant to be a reflection and an example of the past and not just the revenge film genre but multiple genres as well.