First published S&S Jan 2012
Review: It is the second title to emerge from Hong Kong production stable 852 Films, following Pang Ho-cheung’s unflinchingly gory slasher Dream Home (2010), with which it shares a shocking disrespect for pregnant women, a restrictive Hong Kong Category III rating, and the actor Juno Mak. It also stars Japanese Adult Video hardcore idol Aoi Sola (Big Tits Zombie). And it begins with parallel scenes of home invasion in which young Chan Kit (Mak) disembowels gravid housewives and murders their husbands.
All this might lead the viewer to expect Revenge: A Love Story to be a sensationally exploitative serial killer thriller, with only its opening apocalyptic text (“During Armageddon the devil reigns supreme…”) and paradoxical title to hint at the confounding approach to theme and genre that will follow. Kit may be unequivocally guilty, and quickly apprehended, but the film’s apparently straightforward morality of crime and punishment is about to do an about-face as flashbacks reveal the complicated sequence of events that led to Kit’s actions. Despite the media’s focus on the grotesque outrages committed against expectant mothers, these women are merely ‘collateral’ victims, with their husbands the real targets of Kit’s actions. For the men were two of five corrupt policemen who had greatly wronged Kit and his mentally challenged girlfriend Cheung Wing (Aoi) six months earlier, turning the couple’s sweet romance overnight into a horror story in which Kit was beaten and framed for assault while Wing was left alone, institutionalised and pregnant herself with the child of one of her rapists.
Hence Kit’s implacable revenge against the policemen – yet far from endorsing or celebrating his vendetta, director Wong Ching-po (Fu Bo, Jiang Hu, Mob Sister) prefers to keep us at a critical distance, favouring a desaturated palette, elliptical editing, and the god’s eye view afforded by long shots and aerials. By fracturing the natural chronology and opening as Kit executes the most cold-hearted of retaliatory deeds upon not only his genuine malefactors, but their wives and unborn children too, Wong limits our sympathies for this character from the outset, even as he lets the violent injustices done to him and Wing unfold in awful detail.
At heart, Revenge: A Love Story is a tragedy, both because innocence is lost, and because the fall is, at least in part, shown to be a matter of choice. Time and again, Wong shows decisions being made: the policemen siding with their chief Do Ge (Lau Wing) despite knowing that he is in the wrong; and the retired Ge’s successor Jeff (Chiu Siu-ho) preferring to stop Kit dead than to tell the truth. Most poignantly of all, a final, haunting sequence – either a reverie or flashback in which Kit is shown in an idyllic field with his wheelchair-bound beloved – reveals what Kit has left forever behind in pursuing his bloodfeud with Ge to its bitter end.
“There is no revenge as complete as forgiveness”, states the citation from humourist Josh Billings that appears in text form near the film’s close. Yet if forgiveness represents an alternative to all the on-screen rage, it too is complicated and ironised by having Ge, a one-time man of violence turned church minister, as its chief advocate – for while he is all too happy to speak arrogantly of forgiving Kit, he fails to grasp that it is Kit who should forgive him instead. In the end, as Ge suggests, “The almighty moves in mysterious ways.” The same gun that jams repeatedly when Ge tries to kill Kit works just fine later in Kit’s own hands – and yet the infanticide finds himself undone by the next generation. It is an uncomfortable, messy portrait of human revenge and divine justice, realised through intense performances, Daniel Findlay’s driving score, and an all-pervading sense not so much of nihilism as of moral waywardness.
Synopsis: New Territories, Hong Kong. In two separate incidents just days apart, 23-year-old Chan Kit cuts the foetuses from two pregnant women and murders their policemen husbands Ting Zai and Lao Guay. The policemen’s investigating colleagues Jeff and Kwok Hua apprehend and torture Kit. On hearing the news of Kit’s arrest, pregnant Cheung Wing burns a photo of herself with Kit and cuts open her own belly.
Six months earlier, Kit and schoolgirl Wing are in love. When Wing’s elderly guardian dies, Kit rescues the mentally handicapped girl from the Welfare Department, and Wing’s former neighbour the prostitute Ling invites the lovers to stay overnight in her apartment while she visits a client. Drunken Do Ge enters the apartment and, thinking Wing a prostitute, assaults her, before being knocked out by Kit. Reporting the attempted rape to Zai, Guay, Jeff and Hua at the local police station, the couple realises that Ge is in fact the unit chief. Ge, joined by Guay, finishes raping Wing. Realising that Wing is no prostitute, Ge and his colleagues frame Kit for assault, and intimidate Wing into silence. Six months later, pregnant Wing greets Kit outside the prison.
Back to the present, and with a third attack on a pregnant woman (in fact Wing) reported, Jeff and Hua are ordered to release Kit. They phone Ge (now retired). Kit moves Wing from hospital in a commandeered ambulance, and kills Hua and Jeff en route when they attack him. Ge arrives, wounding both Wing’s legs to lure out Kit, and leaving the severely injured Kit for dead. Five years later, the recovered Kit visits Ge, now a Christian minister. Ge states that he has forgiven Kit, but Kit shoots him dead. Kit is then killed by Ge’s choirboys.
© Anton Bitel