I think Johnnie To is just about the best director working today. My standards for action films are high. It’d better be good if I’m going to wade through the blood. To almost always pays off and Vengeance, along with Exiles, is the best one I’ve seen. Johnny Hallyday plays the man looking for vengeance, the father of a woman (Sylvie Testud is a sadly tiny role) whose family is eliminated in mob hit. One problem–Hallyday is an ex-mobster who has a bullet lodged in his brain and is losing his memory. He needs a constant reminder of what he is doing and why. Some of that is provided through his labeled Polaroids (is this the last film to feature a Polaroid?) and sometimes through writing the bad guy’s name on his gun. Providing these consistent reminder are the three hit men he hires to work with him, played by Anthony Wong (whose just dominates every scene he’s in), Ka Tung Lam, and Suet Lam. They become his friends, even when it threatens the hit men. Vengeance eventually happens of course, but the memory lapse angle means nothing happens quite how you expect.
To almost provides masterly direction, but I’m especially fond of his work here, in part because he slows things down. At times, say in Triad Election, things are so fast paced, not only is it hard to keep track of all the characters and their motivations, but there’s little time for anything but action. Things are way slower here, with a good bit of male bonding, a la Peckinpah, Hawks, or Ford. It allows for greater character development, really among all the major characters.
First rate film, highly recommended