Only God Forgives

Ryan Gosling

This multi-national thriller suggests a spiritual or religious theme, but it is a very different kind of movie from what its title implies. There is not a lot of dialogue in it, and it is partially sub-titled.

Julian Thompson (Ryan Gosling) is an US expatriate living in Bangkok, Thailand, and he runs a boxing club that is a front for a drug smuggling operation. Julian’s brother, Billy (Tom Burke), murders an underage prostitute brutally. In control of the Police (with a title that no one dares name) is Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), known to everybody as the 'Angel of Death'.

Chang sadistically roams the streets of Bangkok with his lethal sword, using it as an instrument of immediate justice. He acts as both judge and executioner. Chang informs the girl’s father, Choi Yan Lee (Kovit Wattanakul), about his daughter’s murder and shows her body to him, and permits Choi to beat Billy to death. Chang then cuts off the father’s arm for allowing his daughter to be a prostitute, wielding his sword 'for the sake of your living daughters.'

In the meantime, Julian’s mother, Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is the overlord of the drug ring, arrives in Bangkok to identity Billy’s corpse and orders Julian to kill the men who were responsible for his brother’s death. Twice he refuses, and Crystal is enraged by his disloyalty. To complicate the plot, her past relationship with Julian and his dead brother was an incestuous one, and Crystal taunts Julian with Billy’s sexual prowess.

Crystal’s presence starts a cycle of violence, which illustrates the themes of revenge and retribution. Choi is murdered by one of the fighters at Julian’s club. Julian confronts Chang about his part in Billy’s death, and challenges Chang to a boxing fight which he loses badly. Elsewhere, Crystal arranges for a man called Byron (Byron Gibson) to assassinate Chang. Chang finds and tortures Byron horribly.

This film is full of violence. Such is the degree of violence that the title of the film confronts the viewer all the time with the conclusion that 'only God' can forgive what is happening. It seems to argue that no one other than God can forgive such ultra-violence, and the film provokes the viewer by raising the question whether a good God could ever possibly have allowed such awful things to take place.

This is a brutal film that horrifies in its content. The film confronts the viewer all the time by suggesting provocatively that, to some, God is an incredibly harsh deity who meters out justice very unmercifully.

- Peter Sheehan, ACOFB

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm, Tom Burke, Bryon Gibson, Kovit Wattanakul. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Rated MA15+. Restricted. 89 min.

Only God Forgives

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