In a nutshell, Only God Forgives is a film about vendetta that back-fired. Set in the modern-day Bangkok, the story centers on Ryan Gosling who portrays an American expat drug dealer and the owner of the boxing club called Julian who has to avenge his dead brother. Without spilling out more of a very straightforward storyline, I’ll focus on the conflict.
A ruthless, sword-wielding cop named as Chang who also happens to be an avid karaoke-singer is presented as Julian’s antagonist. But as the story develops it reveals the real villain, the blood-thirsty ‘mobstress’ who happens to be Julian’s mother, a surprising role for Kristin Scott Thomas.
The audiences may feel the ending is anti-climactic, but it’s inevitable and clear from the title of the film. Mother condemns herself and Julian for punishment and Chang is merely the palm of justice.
Only God Forgives turns upside down a Hollywood cliche of a sympathetic hunky crook overthrowing his enemies in the end. Julian is guilty himself for being too weak to walk away from his monstrous family, for following their orders, for being a shadow. That weakness is highlighted in the episode when he humiliates a Thai girl he dates because she contradicted his mother, because she pointed out his weakness to him. Julian is like a shepherd who tries to save both sheep and wolves, – it’s a recipe for disaster.
Only God Forgives is a peculiar hybrid of Wong Kar Wai’s melodic pensiveness and Tarantino’s ultra-violent aesthetics. Perhaps, the artistic style chosen by the director Refn here helps the audience to see Chang’s overly cruel effective punishments as surrogate of a medical procedure.
Cut the rot.