Beware the violence, in a slow movie that barely sets the heart racing. Only God Forgives is a 2013 Danish-French co-production crime film written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Vithaya Pansringarm. This is the 3rd Refn movie I’ve seen after Valhalla Rising & Drive (which also starred Gosling).
Story wise the movie is simple. Gosling plays Julian, an American owner of a Muay Thai club in Bangkok, Thailand that is also a front for an underground drug smuggling ring. His older brother Billy, goes out on night after watching a few matches, and gets a young prostitute who he then proceeds to kill after he has sex with her. The police catch Billy and Lieutenant Chang allows the girl’s father, Choi Yan Lee, to beat Billy to death, but cuts off the father’s arm for allowing his young daughter to be a prostitute. Julian , gathers his crew and confronts Choi but he decides not to kill him when he hears about the reason why the man killed Billy. This does not sit well with his mother Crystal, a kind of mafia mother figure, who has just arrived from the US to claim her son’s dead body. Crystal demands Julian find and kill the men who killed Billy, but he refuses—believing that Choi had some justification for seeking retribution for the killing of his daughter—infuriating her. Julian has several visions of meeting Chang in a dark room, Chang cutting Julian’s hands off.
At dinner Julian has Mai, his favourite prostitute with whom he usually sits tied up while she masturbates herself, dress up and pretend to be his girlfriend and meet his mother. Crystal sees through the ruse and then proceed to insult Mai and her profession and then belittles Julian pronouncing him sexually inferior to his dead brother. Julian just sits there listening to his mother insult them both but gets angry at Mai later as he is walking her home. One of the fighters at Julian’s boxing club assassinates Choi at the behest of Gordon, a member of Julian’s crew, at Crystal’s request. Later, the police investigating Choi’s murder arrive at Julian’s club, but Chang concludes that Julian is not Choi’s killer. Julian recognizes Chang from his visions and follows him from the boxing club, but Chang seems to disappear into thin air. Crystal wants Chang dead for his part in Billy’s death and meets with an associate, Byron, to arrange Chang’s assassination. Three gunmen shoot at Chang and his men in a small hotel and one of the cops is killed. Chang shoots two of the gunmen dead and chases the 3rd, catching him. He is led to their boss who gave the 3 men the target but Chang spares that man’s life as the latter’s young son was with him at the time and instead kills the 3rd gunman. Chang and his men then go to Byron’s club and torture him to find out who ordered the hit on his life. Byron, even though blinded by Chang, doesn’t reveal the name but reveals the reasoning behind the hit.
When Chang goes to see Julian and Crystal at the muay thai club, Julian proposes a fight between the two of them. Chang, an experienced boxer, easily and thoroughly beats Julian, who lands not a single hit in the entire match. Afterwards, Crystal pleads to Julian to protect her, the same way she asked Julian to kill his own father for her, as she suspects that Chang knows it was her who ordered the hit. Julian agrees and takes his associate Charlie Ling to enter Chang’s house, killing the guard outside. They wait till the nanny and Chang’s young daughter comes home and Charlie kills the nanny but Julian has a change of heart and kills Charlie before he can kill the child. Chang later barges into Crystal’s room and kills her. When Julian finds her dead body, he cuts open her abdomen and places his hand inside her. After leaving and having several surreal visions, Julian is shown standing in a field with Chang, who appears to cut off both of Julian’s hands with his sword. The final scene returns to Chang singing at a karaoke bar with an audience of attentive police officers, watching him in amazement.
I dunno what those last scenes were about. This movie is weird and the ending did not leave me satisfied, especially after I sat through the movie enduring the lack of dialogue and excitement and interactions. Visually it’s stunning, with several shots that speaks volumes of the character’s psyche. Storywise I find it lacking. I’ll give it a 6.5 outta 10!