Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Pikmin Abomination

What really happens to that one pikmin you left behind? That one red pikmin. He toiled in the dirt and rain all day for you. He obeyed your commands, thinking it would lead him and all his pikmin brethren to salvation among the stars. He has witnessed horrors you can’t imagine, his friends and relatives swallowed hole, drowned, smashed into a ground by a giant malevolent crab. Images forever burned to his retinas, not that he had long to live now anyway. 

He now watches from terra-firma as you take off without him. He feels a soaring sense of hopelessness as you, the master, the supposed protector, arc into the heavens and out of sight. In that brief moment he wonders what it was all for. In the distance, he hears the monsters coming, hungrily picking up his scent. And so he disappears into the darkness amidst the howls of beasts.

Be under no illusions. Pikmin 3 is an awful dreadful humbug of a game. 

You see it too, right? 
I’m relatively new to the world of Pikmin, but have finally taken my first foray into the franchise with Pikmin 3 which recently came out for Nintendo's ailing Wii-U system. As a number of reviews from around the web will tell you, the game is great, in line with Nintendo's typically high standards. You have accessible gameplay mechanics that make good use of the Wii-U’s touchscreen and gives way to a surprising amount of depth focused on exploration, the management of resources and light strategy. All brought to life with Nintendo’s new found embrace of HD visuals. Eurogamer’s Christian Donlan provided a particularly fluffy appraisal of the game, emphasising the importance of ‘family’ as key to its charm. The pikmin are children, your own adopted flower children, of whom you are sworn to protect…  
"This is a game built of empathy and responsibility - a game about exploring a familiar workd from an unfamiliar, childlike vantage point, and about trying to ensure that the equally childlike characters who assist you on the journey come to no harm along the way." 
But enough of these false pretenses. Let’s get real for a second. Play this music and keep reading.  

For ‘tone’. 

Behind the classic Nintendo sugar coating, the bright colours and cutesy characters, there are dark forces at work within Pikmin 3. The kind of forces that have made and broken nations and civilisations throughout the ages, the whole damned cycle of suppression and suffering that has defined the course of human history. Pikmin 3 is essentially a parable about invasion, slavery, and greed resulting in the frantic consumption and consequent exhaustion of natural resources. Adopting the family friendly camouflage, Nintendo is passing off on all these things as if they are okay.

All for a bit of fruit... 
To kick things off, Pikmin 3 opens with a pretty bleak introduction that cements both the overarching theme of survival – survival by any means necessary, within the looming threat of the end game scenario, a civilisation on the verge of ruin as a consequence of its own greed. The planet of Koppai has exhausted all of its food resources. Nintendo leave us to only imagine the devastation that such conditions would bring, fixing its gaze upon the cold depths of space to forward the plot. In a desperate attempt to prevent extinction, space exploration teams are despatched across the cosmos in search for new planets containing new food resources. So far, there is little hope - save one, a single planet categorised as PNF-404.  

Pikmin 3 deals exclusively with three space travellers, Captain Charlie (good name admittedly), Alph and Brittany, who are sent to the planet in their space ship the SS Drake. PNF-404 may in fact be Earth, there are elements that are certainly recognisable but the game is very ambiguous about the planet's precise history. You have grasslands, tropical rain forests, arctic tundra and deserts, throughout which are littered relics suggesting the presence of humans that existed at one point or another. But as Stephen King would put it, this is an earth that has 'moved on'. You’ll ask yourselves where the humans have gone? In context of the infernal subject matter it should become all too obvious. My pikmin haven't dug out fragments of the statue of liberty just yet, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Of course, it doesn’t really matter to our intrepid space travellers. PNF 404 is just another number in some archive. Another number to be cracked, processed and exhausted, destined to become another hollowed out husk floating among the stars within the vast emptiness of space. Unfortunately, what starts off as a routine operation soon becomes a vicious fight for survival as their spaceship crash-lands and the three crew mates are scattered across the continents. Tiny little space people at the mercy of a vast uncaring and unfamiliar world. That rubbish Will Smith movie that recently bombed at the box office, whose name I will not utter here, has got nothing on Pikmin 3. The world is home to a number of dangerous carnivorous creatures, that mostly come out at night. Mostly…  

No amount of nods to Star Wars can hide the darkness. 
You do find salvation of sorts, however, when you encounter the pikmin, an indigenous species of small flower people - neither animal, nor plant. It is quickly established they respond to your whistles and commands.

“Come here.”

“Go here.”



It all starts off very simply, as the bondage of slavery often does. They band together behind you. They perform menial tasks for you. They dig, they fight, they clear obstacles and help you gather pieces of fruit carting them back to your spaceship for your own consumption.

The crux of gameplay relies on a day and night dynamic. During the day you explore the planet with the pikmin in tow, gathering whatever resources you can. As the sun falls however, you have to retreat back to your space ship before all the nocturnal beasties come out. Daylight lasts approximately 15 minutes, time you have to spend organising your team in attempts to cover as much ground as possible, using your pikmin to solve puzzles, fighting enemies and collecting whatever resources you can. Should any pikmin be left idle or fail to make it back to the landing zone by sundown, they are simply left behind and eaten.  

In order to survive and keep exploring, you must gather fruit and bring it back to your ship, where it is converted into juice at the end of each day. The fruit is recognisable to us, apples, oranges and grapes, but since the Koppai space travellers are new to this world they give it silly names like 'face wrinkler' (Lemon), 'crimson banquet' (water melon), or 'Scaly Custard' (Avocado). Haha! That’s so cute, right? You consume juice at a rate of one space bottle per day, meaning you are constantly looking out for your next fix, building up an enviable stockpile. Initially it is for survival, but that feeling of anxiety of being pushed for resources soon passes and you become a bit more confident. Thusly, the game gradually transitions into the attainment of more and more resources, more fruit, more pikmin slaves. 

Let’s make no qualms about it. The pikmin are your slaves. You collect more and more Pikmin until you have an army. Pikmin of all different kinds! There are red ‘fire’ pikmin, yellow ‘shock’ pikmin, blue ‘water’ pikmin, and the new additions for the third iteration - rock pikmin, who exist purely to smash things up and pink flying pikmin. Each group have their own particular skills that will help you get past obstacles, water pikmin can swim, yellow pikmin are resistant to electricity and can be thrown higher. Yes you throw the pikmin at whatever task needs doing, by their head stalks. The more pikmin you have the more obstacles you can overcome. Be it walls or larger more threatening enemies.

Individually they are weak, but together they are strong.

Together pikmin become a militant entity, conducting your business without question. With each enemy you destroy, you have your pikmin carry the bodies back to your ship for ‘processing’. The more dead you harvest. The more pikmin you create and stockpile. The culmination of exploring results in a boss encounter of monstrous proportions. These are supposed to pose a significant challenge, designed to make you enact strategies on the fly. Once sussed out, these battles become easy. Once the beast has fallen, you get your pikmin to carry its corpse back to base for processing. This can often take up to 10 – 20 pikmin but it is quite a sight to behold, a bizarre ritual of sorts, an extravagant parade in your honour as alien conquerer. Once you were at the bottom of the food chain, but now you levitate about it. The world shrinks in fear, completely at the mercy of you and your terrible pikmin legions. It becomes smaller and somehow less wondrous. Meanwhile the march of you and your pikmin goes on. 

Where will it end? Once you get off world? Once you've restored your home planet to its former glory?       

Here they are defeating Moby-Dick reborn as a centipede... Accomplishing what Ahab never could...  Pikmin find a way.
I lost plenty of pikmin over the course of the game’s campaign, some died in battle, some drowned, some were crushed, others eaten alive and some, regrettably, were left behind when the sun went down. 

So what became of that one lone red pikmin? Forced to brave the darkness as the predators moved in.  

From orbit, you crack open a bottle of fruit juice in orbit. It is sweet and cold, honey running down your throat. You gaze at the curvature of the world below you. You laugh as you remember your early days stranded on the planet's surface, how it all seemed so threatening. Not so anymore, not from this height. Alas, you feel the day’s hard work take effect, and you drift comfortably into a dreamless slumber. No thoughts of your dying home world or the loved ones left behind so many lightyears away, and certainly no thought for that one red pikmin you left behind.  

Morning comes, and you land once again in the forest with plans to salvage what remains to the East. You gather up your pikmin, an even split, 20 of each type. They dispense from the onion, all immaculate and gleaming in the morning sun. But wait… you do a double take, there is one in the corner of your eye. You turn your head to meet his gaze. He just stares back at you, through cold vengeful eyes. You notice that he appears a bit scuffed around the edges, not like the other red one. The thought does cross your mind... but you quickly synapse back to the matter at hand - daylight is wasting. 

Do Pikmin feel? Do they think? Do they plot? 
You move onward, today’s task is to build a bridge. You whistle for your pikmin, but instead of the bustle you have grown accustomed to, the chorus of chirping and the patter of feet, there is only silence. You turn to face your troop. They just stand there staring back at you. Maybe they didn’t hear you? You whistle again. No reaction. A hundred pairs of blinking eyes. The shoots and flowers emanating from their head mounted stalks swaying gently in the wind. You whistle again, and again, and once more in desperation. Then movement. They huddle towards you, surrounding you - a sea of pikmin, you feel their tiny hands grab on to you. Coloured fingers pressed up against your visor, you struggle, whistling madly, but resistance is futile. In one smooth synchronised move they hoist you up into the air and carry you away, never to be seen again.

I'll just leave this here. 

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

A Field in England - "Open up and let the devil in!"

With all the authority of someone who has never taken drugs before. This film is definitely a trip.
Britain... Britain... Britain...  

On one hand you have Edgar Wright, and on the other you have Ben Wheatley. Two British film-makers who use the reality of what it’s like to be British as the basis for their films. Teaming up once again with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, Edgar Wright released The World’s End, the concluding piece of ‘the cornetto trilogy’. Three films that have infused big cinematic conventions to a small English setting, much to the ring-a-ding-ding of the box office.

By contrast, Ben Wheatley has gained a reputation for making a number of off-kilter films, such as 2011’s unbearably harrowing viewing experience Kill List and 2012’s black comedy Sightseers, both followed this year by A Field in England. Wheatley’s films won’t set the box office ablaze (not yet at least) but his films are quintessentially British. He has the talent to put the audience in a state of great unease, exploring a very British sense of madness delving into violence though not without tongue being placed firmly in cheek.

Released simultaneously across cinemas, TV, video on demand and DVD, A Field in England is shot entirely in black and white with a small ensemble cast on location in… well… a field in England. The film is a drug-induced period piece, that ventures into the 17th Century to the time of the English Civil War. Strangely, this period of history hasn’t exactly had the big cinematic treatment despite the period’s obvious wealth in terms of themes and spectacle. A Field in England is not the big cinematic treatment, in fact, a part of me did think that it could just be a bunch of guys taking part in a modern day battle re-enactment. A couple of guys who take the role-playing a bit too far of course... Post it to r/fantheories I guess...  

There is a plot. Allow me to explain.   

From out of the roar of canon fire of a particularly grueling battle, emerges Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) – a cowardly scholar who is fleeing from his master (Julian Barrett). Whitehead’s only task is to bring a known Irish outlaw and alchemist to justice, something he has failed at pathetically. Escaping his master’s clutches he bands together with three lowly footsoldiers: Jacob (Peter Ferdinando), Cutler (Ryan Pope) and a benign simpleton known only by the name friend (Richard Glover). Deserting the battlefield, the group go in search of an alehouse. An appropriate starting point for any adventure. The alehouse never comes however, and the group soon find themselves lost and under the influence of mushrooms. Then emerges O’Neil (Michael Smiley), the very man Whitehead was originally supposed to be looking for. Being a meek scholar, the tables are quickly reversed on Whitehead, as the villainous O’Neil enlists the group to search for a great treasure he believes is buried underneath a particular field that is covered in hallucinatory mushrooms.

Let's look for treasure.
A Field in England is best understood as a story about the British male and the notion of power. Providing historical context is the civil war, but it isn’t something that is explored with any particular detail during the film, even though you can read into presentation of the historical period. The war defined the future of Britain, religion, government, the country’s very soul. Parallels can be drawn with today, with British society divided, handling the pressures of the global recession. Arguably, Britain isn’t great anymore. And there is something that resonates with that notion, in this - a story about five men scrambling around in the undergrowth searching for treasure that may or may not be real.  

The central power struggle lies between O’Neil and Whitehead. As the 'devil', O’Neil uses fear to control the group. Michael Smiley uses that harsh Ulster drawl to menacing effect, (“Open up and let the devil in!”) especially in contrast to  Reece Shearsmith’s pathetically bookish Whitehead. It is a compliment to Shearsmith’s performance that Whitehead continues to gain the audience’s sympathies, I mean this is from the guy who played Papa Lazarou! He’s one of those characters who is slightly incompetent as a human being, but someone who has experienced defeat at every turn and assumed a naturally submissive state. As somebody who once did a masters degree, I felt I could relate to Whitehead as somebody who has spent too much time within the academic bubble. He is obviously intelligent and in possession of rare skills (including lacemaking!) but his attention is drawn towards books rather than reality which is at odds with the other characters, who can adapt better to the deserter's life and a diet of mild altering mushrooms.

"Go on, say 'Have a Banana' one more time. I dare you..."
Whitehead is the learned but unlearned man, O'Neil is the outlaw and the force of suppression. As for the rest of the cast, Ryan Pope's Cutler is the soldier, somebody who can subject power over people so long as he is armed and has orders. Peter Ferdinando as Jacob is the underdog and essentially acts as the voice of the audience, addressing the shiteness of the situation they are faced whenever necessary. Richard Glover, as friend adds humour and levity in his simple understanding of the world. Even though there is more to the character than meets the eye, with a 'complicated' backstory involving his wife and a penchant to not stay dead when killed. 

Most of the cast is comprised of familiar faces from British cult comedy, Shearsmith from League of Gentlemen and Smiley from Edgar Wright’s Spaced. Julian Barrett even appears early on as Whitehead’s master. I was expecting Noel Fielding to cameo as an giant sexualized mushroom during one of the many hallucinatory scenes, but it never transpires thankfully.   

The dialogue exists somewhere between Shakespeare and Blackadder. There is a lyrical flow to dialogue, a fair amount of toilet humour and some profound lines (Cutler: What do you see friend? Whitehead: Nothing. Perhaps only shadows…). The film does feel very influenced by amateur theatre in its mechanics with all the trappings of Elizabethan theatre. Minimalist surroundings located in the wilds of nature, away from civilisation, a setting where anything could happen. It could just as easily be performed on stage, especially its many tableaux scenes, which heighten the classical elements whilst serving as chapter breaks. In which the characters stand in static as if posing for a painting or diorama. This still remains a film, however, and Ben Wheatley as always manages to create a number of scenes that are designed to have a traumatic effect on the viewer.

One of the film's many tableaux sequences. 
One scene that will undoubtedly leave an impression comes fairly early on. It has one hell of a setup. Whitehead has succumbed to Michael Smiley’s villainous O’Neil. He has tried in vain to reason with the irish man that he is his prisoner, but it is of course the other way round. Whitehead is invited with an open hand to descend into O’Neil’s tent. It is of course less of an invitation and more a direct order, made pretty and consensual (almost) by a fanciful tableaux sequence. Cutler stands holding Friend and Jacob at gunpoint, the latter two bowing submissively indicative of their lowly social status. At this point, Jacob breaks the fourth wall, by looking up from the ground directly at the audience, acknowledging the horror that is about to play out. What follows is almost five minutes of agonising screaming as Whitehead undergoes some nameless brutality within the confines of the tent. We don’t fully understand what O’Neil is doing to Whitehead, whether he is being raped or tortured, or submitted to some bizarre alchemical practices. We witness it only through the screaming and the grimmaces of the group outside. But then the moment comes. Whitehead emerges from the tent. Transformed. 

What follows is the single creepiest scene I have witnessed in cinema in recent memory. Whitehead walks out of the tent, his upper body bound in rope. A freakish smile beaming across his face indicating a state of higher consciousness existing somewhere between Nirvana and pure terror. He walks out of the tent in slow motion as if learning to walk again, all the while that demented grin spread across his face as he moves past his comrades, staring them down. All to the sound of a euphoric melodies of Blanck Mass’s Chernobyl. It is a deeply unsettling sequence though mesmerizing at the same time. Gives me shivers just thinking about it… ehhhh…

The mushrooms and drug-induced sequences are of course another focus of the feature. They essentially serve to transform Whitehead from meek academic man servant to civil war duel pistol toting Popeye. Wheatley includes a number of startling hallucinatory sequences, employing double and kaleidoscopic vision. Under the effect of mushrooms, the field appears blasted by the elements, swept with wind, and an ominous black planet appearing in the sky. Having never really experienced the effects of drugs (you’re going to need a large enough dosage…) it does provide a rush which energises the film after it’s predominantly black and white stillness of its first and second half. The rush comes from witnessing the transformation of Whitehead, his mind enlarged, as he drops his studious and celibate qualities to battle the devil. Apparently, drugs can be good for you, I don’t know what Mr Mackey was talking about…    

"Go on, say 'hello Dave' one more time. I dare you". 
The film ends quite predictably enough. Whitehead, with the help of Jacob and the seemingly invincible Friend betters O’Neil, with a shot that blows through his right eye socket. Whitehead, seems to assume the mantle of his suppressor, perhaps to take his place, returning back to the battlefield where events began, perhaps with a new sense of bravery, perhaps to entice a new group of stragglers into looking for more gold, where he can further study the alchemical properties of the mushrooms to a greater degree. Either way, Wheatley has provided the entire final reel, for amateur film makers to download and create their own edit. Noble.

It is perhaps a fitting end to this experiment of a film, that largely allowed audiences to see the film their own way. Despite being set in the 17th Century, A Field in England is very much founded on that punk mentality. Coming from nothing, with the help of the most basic resources to achieve… something. 

But what does this say about England today? I hear the sensible film critic say? That we should gorge on copious amounts of mushrooms and then go trigger-happy in the houses of parliament? Definitely! Let's do that! No, I think my understanding is a lot more simplistic, be your own man and step out of your comfort zone, don't be a slave to institutions, or anyone who is primed to take advantage of you. Open up and let the devil in - by all means, but be ready to moderate his attachment over you.    

Michael Smiley was just one of the great things about Spaced. 

Friday, 9 August 2013

Only God Forgives - Ryan Gosling will hurt you.

"Wanna Fight?" 

I just want to say something about Ryan Gosling first of all.

It doesn’t matter what gender you are, what sexual orientation you are, or how insecure or confident you may be in your own appearances. No one can deny that Ryan Gosling, as far as male human beings go, is a pretty damn fine specimen. Gosling has gained a reputation for being a quiet one in movies, adopting a ‘less is more’ approach to acting by not saying much at all. Of course, he doesn’t need to, because he is so good looking. Who needs words when you’re Ryan Gosling? Whatever scene you are pitched in, you draw in audiences automatically like a tractor beam – moths to the flame. Words and indeed the traditional point of having dialogue in films - whether it is to move along the plot or add emotional substance or colour becomes utterly meaningless. Unworthy of Ryan Gosling, who almost seems to be lampooning the archetype he so easily could be typecast. People go to the cinema for spectacle, Ryan Gosling’s face is that spectacle. Words are extra. 

Of course, Gosling could quite easily have become the next Matthew Mcconaughey. Picking up a series of sumptuous pay cheques from a string of crowd pleasing romantic comedies. But he doesn’t. He did the Notebook and a few others, but that was it. He knows he could so easily be typecast, which is why he teams up with directors like Nicholas Winding Refn who have the ability of amping up his on screen persona to the sublime, where his normally immaculate visage begins to crack and denature.

Still would? Of course you would... 
This was evidenced by 2011’s Drive. The only way to snap audiences out of the Ryan Gosling effect is to have his character partake in tonal extremes. To paraphrase Ed Norton’s character in Fight Club, to destroy something beautiful.  Drive, in my opinion, was a fantastic movie of old school execution and sensibilities, but at the time of release the movie seemed to rub audiences up the wrong way. The main reason, seemed to be focused on the film being mis-marketed as a thriller with car chases starring Ryan Gosling, but in actuality it was a far darker affair laced with scenes of the old ultra violence in which the blue eyed, blonde haired poster boy at one point threatens to hammer a bullet into the forehead of an unlucky plebian. 

And so we come to the Gosling/Refn tag team’s latest feature Only God Forgives. A title that shouldn’t mislead audiences into the multiplex, not like last time. Well… all those who didn’t like Drive will presumably be AWOL, safely wrapped up in another screen watching the Smurfs 2 presumably. I can almost guarantee that all those, hoping for a spiritual successor to Drive however will feel misled. Also disappointed and potentially violated, because Only God Forgives is a completely different movie.       

Julian (Ryan Gosling) is the owner of a boxing club in Bangkok, which serves as the legitimate front to his family’s drug dealing business. When his dickheaded brother is killed after murdering a 14-year old local girl, his mother Crystal (a barely recognizable Kristen Scott Thomas) arrives in from the US to collect the body. Crystal is the head of the business and is angry when she finds out that Julian has apparently neglected to seek and snuff out his brother’s killer. The culprit is a policeman turned vigilante by the name of Chang, who has a preference for administering an old testament, wrath of God styled justice by way of a short katanna sword he seems to unsheathe from thin air. After the family put out a hit on Chang, events escalate, ultimately pitting Julian against the seemingly unstoppable ‘angel of vengeance’.

Ho boy. So in that last paragraph - the obligatory set the plot up for the reader paragraph - I tried to leave you, the reader, feeling compelled into finding out how it all ends, whether Ryan Gosling bests his brother’s killer. This is usually done so as not to give away the plot and also for you to keep reading. It becomes very clear in this movie, that there is only one way this story is going to end and that goes double for Gosling's character.  

When you think back to Drive, you think about the tangibility of its world and characters. LA was as big a character as its cast, whether it was from the perspective of the city at night or driving through the storm drains by day. The world of stunt driving and indeed getaway driving, is where man and machine are symbiotically connected. Even the manner in which the film was made was refreshingly old school, with little computer generated effects and a masterful display of cinematography. The characters too, were all functional in their own way, Bryan Cranston as the friendly fatherly fixer, Ron Perlman as the big bad, Casey Mulligan as the girl stuck in a bad place and of course Ryan Gosling as the blue eyed hero. Finally, the era it was set felt vintage, a simpler time viewed through a rose tinted lense. There was a tangible sensibility in its method, functions and tone. 

Best line from the film: "Remember, Girls... no matter what happens, keep your eyes shut. And you men... take a good look." 
Only God Forgives, in contrast is far more art house in design. It feels more like a product of Thai cinema, its concrete jungle plagued by sin and over violence, in dire need of somebody to clean up the streets by any means necessary. At the same time, there is a feeling of intangibility, an almost dreamlike quality. The neon lit labyrinth corridors of nightclubs and 'interiors' that it is set within is deliriously reminiscent of Nolan’s piling dreamscapes from Inception. Many dens of opulence also feature depicted with an OCD attention to detail and artistic arrangement, giving it a very 'designed' look, symmetrical and clinical and as a consequence completely out of whack. Violence and torture seem to linger at every corner however, waking the film up from its otherwise comatose state. It’s an unbearable atmosphere to be sure. It is also a film of absolutes, black and white, men and women. There may be grey area, but there is only ever one way out.     

So I’ve talked a lot about Ryan Gosling in the beginning of this piece, and it’s probably bad form, to now suggest, that this isn’t really a Ryan Gosling film. Sure it has him brandishing his dukes on the poster, but this isn’t the Ryan Gosling vehicle that Drive was. It is a fact that Gosling was not originally intended to star in the film, only doing so, when another actor (supposedly English actor attached to the Hobbit) dropped out at the last moment (probably not Martin Freeman...). Julian does have that strand of morality that was indicative of the Driver, when he admits to his mother that he believes his brother deserved to die after what he did. Part of the brilliance of Drive was in how the driver's blue eyed innocence and heroic entitlement ultimately causes more trouble than its worth. In comparison, Only God Forgives, Julian has that mentality but struggles to enforce it due to his bizarre relationship with his mother.   

Kristin Scott Thomas, in an uncharacteristic role that could only be described as a 'toxic mega cunt'. 
Gosling, who probably has all but twelve lines in the piece is outstaged by this fellow leads. Kristin Scott Thomas as the mother Crystal is a highly detestable though dominating presence. She's a bastion of fakery, botoxed face, fake breasts, fake tan and leopard skin dresses. We question if she even cares for her remaining son and everywhere you feel that she has damaged her remaining son extensively, to the point that no third act resolution or inspiring montage can repair. Freud would have a field day because there is a very creepy Oedipus complex at work, and though he doesn't stab his eyes out, he does get them bruised which sets alarm bells ringing. 

Meanwhile Vithaya Pansringham as Chang puts in a horrifically magnetic performance – a puritanical presence dressed completely in black, with white collar, giving him a godly feeling of authority and principle. Chang has all the menace of Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh with all the temperance of a samurai. With Crystal as the mother, there is an argument to suggest that Chang provides the paternal streak. In a sense Only God Forgives is a traditional movie, in that it is a film where the good guys win. But the way in which Chang administers justice is enough to feel sorry for scumbag victim. The humid mean streets of Bangkok is very much his jungle, and everybody else is just prey. This is his movie.  

Don't mess with this guy. Be good to one another, eat your vegetables and pay your taxes. 

As with Drive, the music is once again provided by Cliff Martinez. His score to the film’s climatic fight scene contains spiraling synths and doom mongering church organs. It sounds as if it comes straight out of a John Carpenter flick. It is probably safe to assume that it will soon feature as the soundtrack of another flashy car advert. Something silver and exquisitely designed, driving around a faceless city at night. 

Many critics seem to suggest the film is about guilt. Me? I think it’s a bit simpler than that. It’s about strangers in a strange and distant land. This land isn’t just physical but internal, a seedy neon lit labyrinth that infringes on the borders of sanity. It shows how its characters becoming estranged from each other and themselves and therefore completely and utterly doomed from the outset. But if you can rise above it, by leading a righteous life and follow all that toil and gratuitous violence with a modest karaoke performance, you should be fine.    

Some viewers were put off by Drive when that film had a distinct lack of driving. Similarly, Only God Forgives will have a misleading effect, though it will mislead the fans of Drive. This obviously puts the film’s prospective audience into a far smaller niche. Drive was tangible, it had emotion and the levity of resolution, Only God Forgives is coldly intangible with exception to the scenes of gushing violence, and for that reason it will not be for everybody. I’m not even sure it’s for me...

As I said before, this is a film where the good guy wins. But it is a nightmarishly claustrophobic piece, a lucid fever dream punctuated by scenes of distressing violence juxtaposed with nonchalant karaoke sessions. Things happen, things are said, even explained, but you are still left questioning whether anything you experience is actually real. It may be worth a second viewing for the latent symbolism to synapse. As of now, there simply has been no other film released this year that has lingered in my imagination with such a delirious impact. This must be what it means to observe the wrath of God from afar. Quite an impression, even if you don't quite believe in it... 

Thought I'd just finish this piece with a picture of a puppy. Y'know, for levity?

And who doesn't love this scene from Drive?