Josie Ho’s 852 Films follow up Pang Ho Cheung’s wonderfully gruesome “Dream Home” with more dark exploitation fare in “Revenge: A Love Story”, a violent tale which very much lives up to its title. Based on a story by pop singer Juno Mak (himself apparently an ardent fan of extreme genre cinema), who also takes the lead role, the film was co-written and directed by Wong Ching Po, and shows the same kind of noirish visual style as his previous outings, in particular cult hit triad thriller “Jiang Hu”. Possibly the film’s biggest draw however is the presence of Japanese adult film actress Aoi Sola (recently in the awesome “Big Tits Zombie 3D”), not quite managing to keep her clothes in her first Chinese language role. The film has enjoyed a successful run at festivals, having been one of the opening films of the 2010 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, winning prizes at Moscow and Puchon, and playing to acclaim at the 2011 London Terracotta Festival.
The film has since been picked up for distribution by Terracotta, and is now available on region 2 DVD, coming with various interviews, a making of featurette and the standard issue trailers. Interestingly, and definitely worth noting for genre fans, the region 2 version being released is the international cut of the film, which features a fair amount of gruesome and sadistic footage trimmed from the Hong Kong cinema and DVD release, despite it having been rated category III. This was also the case with “Dream Home”, which had several extended bloody scenes in its international version – an indication of the recent shift and possible toning down of Hong Kong cinema, and a fact likely to suprise any fans of category III who grew up with the wild and wacky likes of “The Untold Story”, “Red to Kill” and others.
As with “Dream Home”, the film has a somewhat fractured plot, beginning as a serial killer brutally dispatches a series of policemen and their pregnant wives. The murderer, a young man called Kit (Juno Mak) is quickly caught, and is found by the detective in charge (Chin Siu Ho, “The Lost Bladesman”) to be linked to a previous investigation relating to a horrific rape and battery. As Kit is interrogated, the facts of the past and present cases come out, involving his relationship with Wing (Aoi Sola), a mentally challenged high school girl who he fell for while working at a food stall in a rural village. As it transpires, Kit and Wing’s burgeoning love had been shattered after she was mistaken for a prostitute by a particularly thuggish local policeman (Lau Wing, who also appeared in several Bruce Lee films, generally as a villain), setting in motion a cycle of ever intensifying violence and destruction.
“Revenge: A Love Story” is clearly a film which aims to deliver its visceral thrills with a touch of substance and art house leanings, as can be seen by the weirdly titled chapter headings which pop up from time to time, often out of nowhere and generally having very little to do with the onscreen action or narrative. Wong Ching Po seems to have something to say about human nature, though sadly he’s not quite up to the level of Pang Ho Cheung, and aside from a few rather obvious comments on the fact that revenge doesn’t really help anyone, the film’s themes and subtext are likely to leave viewers somewhat bemused. The film’s direction is suitably ponderous, full of an odd use of light and shadow, strange shifts in pacing and some oddly out-dated feeling MTV style editing and slow motion. The production values are certainly much higher than with the vast majority of genre films, and this again seems to suggest that Wong was taking a stab at something he considered substantial and significant.
Of course, this isn’t the case, and the film is a piece of grindhouse outrage that is in very little danger of finding any crossover appeal or intellectual respectability. For genre fans, this is really no bad thing, and the film is all the more entertaining and indeed crazier for its daft pretentiousness. The film certainly delivers on in terms of graphic content, with some truly shocking violence and gore scenes, many of which involve pregnant women, along with gun and knife battles, beatings, and over the top police brutality. Predictably enough, Aoi Sola has to endure one of the roughest and longest rape scenes in recent memory, undergoing some horrific treatment at the hands of her abusers during the film’s key flashback sequence. As a result, the film is mainly for those with strong stomachs, pushing the rating to its limits, especially in the substantially nastier international cut.
Although it’s the violence which really drives the film, the plot itself is taut and gripping, art house ponderousness aside. Wong weaves the exposition and flashbacks into the narrative with reasonable skill, and the film moves along at a fast pace, picking up tension towards the inevitably downbeat ending. The film actually does have a different feel to most other revenge themed dramas, and whilst not particularly original, it does show a little more thought and effort. The cast are all pretty reasonable, with Juno Mak convincing and even winning sympathy as the tortured Kit, and Aoi Sola at least showing a few flashes of emotional depth, despite only having a few lines of dialogue in total. Their relationship is surprisingly affecting, making for a few moments of genuine sweetness scattered throughout and helping to validate the use of the word ‘Love’ in the title, which of course Mak uses to further hammer home the essential grimness of everything else going on in the film.
It’s partly this bleakness, as well as the approach of combining mock-philosophy with all-out exploitation which makes “Revenge: A Love Story” so entertaining and memorable, not least since it’s pretty much the polar opposite of most watered down modern Hong Kong cinema which has been made quite blatantly with the Mainland market in mind. Although not quite the film that Wong Ching Po seems to think it is, for those who enjoy unremittingly dark thrillers or who want to see Juno Mak and Aoi Sola being horribly abused, it scores very highly indeed. With this and “Dream Home”, Josie Ho is quickly becoming one of the few champions of old school Category III cinema and excess, and for that she definitely deserves praise and the support of all genre fans.
Ching-Po Wong (director) / Lai-yin Leung, Ching-Po Wong, Juno Mak (screenplay)
CAST: Juno Mak … Kit
Sola Aoi … Wing