Wednesday, April 28, 2010


We preserve our traditions. The fire we warm ourselves around, the meals we eat, the stories we tell, the holidays we observe. These things are a part of us, not just out of ritual familiarity. We cling to the familiar to restore our spirits, to remind us where we've been and chart paths to where we're going. And every so often we welcome guests to our table, their stories become our own, and at least for a moment they become family. Tradition is to be protected, but, more crucially, it's to be shared.

Since the 1997 changeover, Johnnie To has been something of a standard-bearer for old-school Hong Kong cinema. Though the man has refined his mastery across several genres, from the gangster epics many associate with HK cinema through wacky romantic comedy to elegaic fantasy, the Johnnie To/Milky Way Image brand remains an unassailable mark of quality. Watching the Milky Way regulars - veteran actors including Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, Lam Ka-Tung, and Simon Yam - stepping into the frame of the latest Johnnie To opus is like watching Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band take the stage for another show; we've seen them in other contexts, but there's history happening here again, and we sit back to watch where they (and we) are going next.

VENGEANCE has many of the familiar tropes of To's gangster cinema - many of the cast have returned, this time breaking bread, hanging out, and spreading carnage across Hong Kong and Macau. But standing tall in their midst is French singer Johnny Hallyday, playing a bereaved Parisian in Macao to investigate and avenge the gangland attack on his daughter's family. Though his arrangement with the hitmen he enlists to assist him in his quest is a financial one, they quickly find themselves personally invested in his mission, and something familiar and new clicks inside us as the men become family. Hallyday is a unique presence, playing a blue-eyed soul we haven't seen in To's cinema (most notably, he brings the fragile and dissolving memory that is crucial to a particular strain of his country's cinema). Though To's regulars have plenty of space to riff with and solo against one another, Hallyday's clearly a simpatico spirit, holding his own as the lead of the film and his place among the band. Hallyday is clearly, gloriously a brother, and his final duet with Yam just seals the deal.

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