Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Vengeance is the latest from director Johnnie To. In it, an auditor and his two children are killed in Macao by a trio of assassins, and his wife (Sylvie Testud) is left in critical condition. Her father, Costello (played by French singer and actor Johnny Hallyday), arrives from France to care for her, and she asks him to avenge her and her family. When returning to his hotel, Costello inadvertently stumbles across a different group of assassins, carrying out an assignment to kill crime boss George Fung's (Simon Yam) cheating girlfriend and bodyguard. Costello manages to recontact them later, and asks them to help him find those responsible for his daughter's tragedy and seek his vengeance. But Costello has secrets of his own, including rapidly deteriorating memory, which brings complications and calls everything into question.

Vengeance is a classic To film populated with many of his regulars, including Anthony Wong, Ka Tung Lam, Suet Lam, and Simon Yam. There are some very cinematic action set pieces spread throughout the film, and on that point the film does not disappoint. The central theme of the movie, looking at vengeance and memory, and does the former have any meaning without the latter, is intriguing, but maybe not carried quite as far as it could be at the very end. The choice of Hallyday is an interesting one, but brings both pluses and minuses. He does convey a hard-boiled, noirish feel, and has some good moments when his memory starts to fail him, but there are other times when it feels a bit stiff. Still, if you're a fan of To's work, you'll like the film.

Johnnie To was present this year, and did a Q&A after the film, with Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes. Johnny Hallyday was present at the start, but had to leave to make an early flight the next day:

  • Hallyday did relate a story about a scene in which his character has to jump off a building, and he turned to To and asked if he had a stuntman to do it, to which To replied, no, Hallyday had to do it himself, so he did.
  • The film is a French/Hong Kong co-production. It came about in 2005 when To was in Cannes for Election, and a French distributor introduced To to Alain Delon, who To was a big fan of in the 70's. Geddes noted that Delon's film Le Samourai was an inspiration for John Woo's The Killer. Delon's character's name in that film is Costello, just like Hallyday's in Vengeance.
  • Delon had seen To's movies and liked them, so at dinner they both agreed to try and work on something together. To went back to Hong Kong and worked on a script with Wai Ka-Fai with Delon in mind, but when he submitted the script, Delon decided that the role wasn't suited to him. The producer of the movie and To thought the story was a good one and wanted to find a way to continue. The distributor called him and told him there was someone he should meet, so To flew out to Paris and met Hallyday at his restaurant off the Champs-Élysées. When To walked in, he didn't know who Hallyday was, but saw a man sitting at a table by himself, with a suit, and he immediately thought this person is like a killer, waiting for his job.
  • For the night picnic shootout scene, what was important was what he could say about the character of Costello, and in the film we see memory go in and out of him. So the moonlight and the cloud is used as a reflection of his state of mind, as sometimes things are clear to him, and other times not.
  • For the recycling cube scene in the garbage dump, he didn't want to disclose exactly how he got the idea, but both To and Wai Ka-Fai are fans of Akira Kurosawa, so the scene is strongly influenced by his work and style.
  • The actors he knows very well, and when he works with them on set it's easier as communication is straightforward, so it saves time and money. He needs them and they need him.
  • Suet Lam plays the dumbest but cutest character in the film. He's an actor who can do anything and everything, whether taking off his pants, or whatever. Geddes talked about how at an after party for Election in Hong Kong at a karaoke bar, he saw Suet Lam sing karaoke, saw Johnnie To sing Feelings, and Simon Yam had his fingers in his ears when Johnnie was singing.
  • Suet Lam started his career as a set runner 15 or 20 years ago, and that's how To first met him. He was never properly trained as an actor. When he was working on the set, To would notice him reenacting lines from whatever they were shooting as he was moving props around the set, but doing it in a naughty way. Sometimes To felt his performance was better than that of the actors, so over time To moved him to proper roles, but he would still be moving props and things between takes, so To reminded him he should stop carrying things and be a real actor.
  • Geddes related another anecdote about being on the set of Exiled, and getting a picture with the electrician, which none of the crew understood, but the guy was the guy pushing the cart who gets shot in The Mission. To uses a lot of the crew in various small roles in his films.
  • To grew up watching films in the 60's, so was a big fan of westerns. when he made Exiled, he had just come off of Election 1 and 2, which were a tough shoot because of the political subject matter, so Exiled was like a release where he could shoot based on things he liked. The first day on set, the actors didn't know what he was doing, and he said they were on Exiled, and were free and could do what they want.

Spoilers below:

  • There are many possibilities for the ending, but the ending is perhaps more important to the audience than the character, because of his condition.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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