Police in a small town outside of Hong Kong are called to the scene of a brutal crime. A pregnant woman has been gutted, her dead fetus left laying atop her deflated belly. It’s quickly followed by another attack and a similarly butchered victim.
The detectives arrest the killer, but his capture is just a part of the tale as we jump back several months to see everything that preceded this onslaught of bloody violence. Cause and effect, love and rage, before and after…this is a brutal, surprising, and ultimately redemptive film.
Revenge: A Love Story is a rarity in that Hong Kong has shied away from the graphically violent and emotionally pitch black fare for several years now. Their genre film industry has instead focused on martial arts, gangsters, and period pieces. A hint that the new norm may be due for an upset came last year with the excellent but extremely violent thriller Dream Home. The level of brutality and maturity on display in that film is an intense reminder of the days when Category III films were far more common, so it comes as no surprise that that film’s creators are now looking to repeat that success.
The film opens strong with a string of suspenseful encounters that reveal the after effects of violence while rarely showing the act, but it’s more than enough to grab the attention and interest. There’s no doubt that Kit (Juno Mak) is the man responsible, and his arrest is swift, but that setup is just the beginning of the story. A second act flashback introduces Cheung Wing (Aoi Sola), a local girl who lives near the café where Kit works, and his barely concealed love for her. She’s mentally challenged in some unspecified way, but Kit sees past that to the sweet heart beneath.
It’s that back story and its intent that represents the film’s biggest hurdle, but writer Jill Leung and co-writer/director Wong Ching Po pull it off fairly well. Good and evil are empty terms here with most folks being a crimson shade of grey instead. That balancing act wouldn’t work without a strong actor in the role, but Mak nails the emotions both light and dark. Less successful on the acting front is Aoi, but it’s a challenging role. Plus, she has other assets to make up for it.
Moral ambiguity aside the story is an engaging revenge thriller that entertains with energy and style. A solidly rhythmic and percussive score helps keep the action moving and along with stylish touches like sparsely-used slow mo make for a visually and aurally attractive experience. The violence that is skirted in the first act shifts into graphic, wince-inducing gear by the final third.
Revenge: A Love Story impresses as a violent thriller in several ways, from the visual style to the smartly fractured structure, but its biggest feat is with the attempted transformation/explanation of its antihero. Kit is a cold-blooded killer capable of slicing an unborn child from its dying mother’s womb, but it’s the “why” behind his actions that will challenge viewers to find sympathy in the unforgivable. Or not.
The Upside: Suspenseful and unexpected; manages to build sympathy for a brutal killer; violence moves from implied to visceral
The Downside: Very fine line the protagonist walks; Aoi Sola’s acting not strong enough to portray the mentally challenged