I hate this time of the year. All of a sudden you realize there’s a ton of stuff you meant to do over the last 12 months that you never got around to and time is quickly running out. It’s a self imposed deadline, despite what the calendar says, so I generally ignore the situation. But occasionally I stop taking matters in my own hand for a spell and turn my attention to checking off at least a few of the items on my annual to-do list before they get added to next year’s list. Such was the case this weekend when I finally got around to watching Only God Forgives.
I figured a movie set in Bangkok by a visibly gay award winning director, starring a former Sexiest Man Alive has got to be worth viewing. Even if I am a bit ambivalent about said former Sexiest Man Alive, Ryan Gosling. It’s not that I don’t find Ryan attractive, it’s more about his degree of attractiveness. Not that I can think of any reason I’d kick him out of bed. And with Bangkok serving as the tale’s backdrop, how hot Ryan is or isn’t really doesn’t mater. I mean I watched Bangkok Dangerous and Nicholas Cage would never even make it to my bedroom much less into my bed so I could kick him out of it. So I’m not sure why it took me so long to stick the movie into my dvd player. Maybe it was because the film was booed after it debuted at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. But then that’s an European reaction. And since the French consider Jerry Lewis one of the world’s best actors, I don’t really trust reviews coming out of the continent.
If you haven’t seen it, Only God Forgives is a gritty film noir . . . oh who in the hell am I trying to kid. I haven’t a clue what in the hell that flick was supposed to have been about. Visually, the movie is stunning. The plot someone sketched out on a cocktail napkin. And then no one bothered to flesh it out with details. Or dialog. The acting is wooden, though I’m guessing purposely so even though what purpose that was supposed to serve is beyond me. I’m also guessing it was supposed to be a morality play. But then sharia law doesn’t really sell well in Hollywood. So who knows. Of watching the movie one reviewer said, “I felt violated, shat upon, sedated, narcotized, appalled and bored stiff.” I’d agree but I really was narcotized while watching the film and it didn’t help.
The tale itself is a pretty basic one. Boy meets girl (who is an under-aged prostitute), boy kills girl, girl’s father get invited by machete wielding cop to kill boy (so he does), machete wielding cop chops off girl’s father’s hand for killing boy, boy’s mother flies into town for a not-so-tearful reunion with boy’s brother and immediately, lovingly wraps his cute ass in her arms . . . and then it starts to get weird. But that scene with Kristin Scott Thomas as the mother framing Ryan Gosling’s ass with her arms – to the extent that it gives the phrase motherly love a whole new meaning – does remind you which of his talents won Ryan the Sexiest Man Alive honor. I’m just not sure who it was that decided cops in Bangkok run around wielding machetes. ‘Cuz we all know that’s taxi drivers, not cops. Quentin Tarantino would have go that right.
Ryan plays the now dead boy’s brother, Julian, an American expat who runs a Thai boxing club as a front for the family’s drugs smuggling operation. Since drugs are a part of the plot (albeit a very small and convenient part) Ryan would have been better served by taking Nancy Reagan’s advice when the role was offered to him and should have just said no. But he’d teamed up with the visibly gay director, Nicolas Winding Refn, in Drive to some success, and even swapped spit with the pudgy Dane when that film won at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. So Ryan was probably expecting a bit more. And we all know what Nicolas was expecting. Note to straight guys: we appreciate your willingness to be our buddies, friends, wing men, and collaborators. But when you slip us tongue we consider that a green light. And if then you start acting all coy, there’s gonna be hell to pay. Like being cast in a movie that some reviewers consider to be one of the five worst movies of all time. But let’s get back to the important part of Only God Forgives: Ryan Gosling’s ass.
I’m still ambivalent about Ryan Gosling as a whole, but am now enamored with his ass. As evidently Nicolas Winding Refn is too considering how well and often it is featured in Only God Forgives. And that bothers me. Not because Nicolas is an obvious bottom, but because I generally prefer a nice, plump, round, and well-toned backside. Ryan’s is more on the small side. Not to mention, technically he’s a blonde. But then I spent close to twenty years drooling in anticipation of seeing Ryan Phillipe’s equally enticing ass, and when that money shot came I have to admit it was well worth the wait. Huh. Maybe my ambivalence is about actors named Ryan. Or blondes. Or actors who come across a pretentious little shits.
And while I’m on the subject, Ryan gets his ass kicked in Only God Forgives (Gosling, not Phillipe). By the aforementioned machete wielding cop. Who obviously saw the first ten minute scene of the movie – which spent far too long in a close-up shot showing Ryan slowing making a fist – and realized he didn’t need his machete to put a whooping on Gosling. Seriously, Ryan makes a fist like your six year old nephew who you have to explain to why you’ll break your thumbs forming a fist like that. It makes you wonder why his character is supposed to run a muay thai club when he can’t even make a decent fist. But then you remember the director is visibly gay and a muay thai club is a good excuse to show a bunch of hot young thai guys in boxing shorts and it all makes sense. Exactly why it was also necessary to throw in a short clip of a Tawan-style bar boy pose down, however, is not as evident. Oh, the visibly gay director thingy. Right. Which would also explain the characters’ discussion about the size of Ryan’s cock (Gosling, not Phillipe). As well as his prostitute girlfriend’s lady parts being referred to as a cum dumpster.
But it is that inexplicable short clip of muscle dudes on stage in posing straps that has absolutely nothing to do with the scene it was thrown into that starts working on your consciousness and begins to make you suspect the visibly gay director just might be a genius. It’s easy to discount his efforts in Only God Forgives because he seems to not have made any. But as a homage to Bangkok the film works and captures the city’s exotic essence and allure better than any other movie in which the Big Mango plays a staring role. The movie’s slow pace, absence of dialog (and even sound in many scenes) gives you the opportunity to fully take in the setting. From the over abundant use of white Christmas tree lights as decor, to dark alleyways that still manage to brim with color, to a mangy soi dog hobbling across the screen on three legs, to an almost unrecognizable Emporium Suites, the cinematography captures what is so familiar in Bangkok that you almost never consider it. Until an extremely strange and slow movie make you take stock.
The nighttime streets of the city play an important atmospheric role in the film, and you’ll recognize many of the locales, some specifically, some in the ‘I’ve been there, where in the hell is that?’ vein. And while the bar scenes may not be as familiar to you – they’re all straight clubs, unfortunately – Refn manages to get Gosling to capture the bored but enthralled look that many sexpats exhibit, a look you will be familiar with. And just like a night out on the town with Thai friends that inexplicably and suddenly involves a karaoke bar, in the middle of all the machete wielding mayhem, Refin’s Thai protagonist suddenly stops his rampage to hop on stage and start belting out some Issan tune that sounds suspiciously like a cat caught in a Cuisinart.It’s pure brilliance. It’s Bangkok at its strangest. And it’s the Bangkok I know and love.
On that level, Only God Forgives transcends its mediocrity and displays a familiarity with the Bangkok scene that most movie critics would miss due to their lack of familiarity with the city and its naughty night life. Though I suspect Roger Ebert is in the know if you know what I mean. There’s a scene where Gosling is having a one-sided conversation in English with his bar girl girlfriend that’ll invoke a been there done that response in all of you. And even the movie’s slow pace is reminiscent of the top speed you can manage when attempting to stroll down Sukhumvit.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s film visit to the Land of Smiles in The Beach supposedly continues to draw visitors to Thailand. Even though the actual scenes of Thailand other than the mythical island are minimal. I doubt Only God Forgives will have the same impact on movie goers. Especially since so few have bothered to see it. But as a repeat visitor to Bangkok, Only God Forgives will draw you into its spell. And like Bangkok, it’ll leave you wondering just what in the hell it was you just went through. It may not be the best movie for you to start the new year out with, but despite all of its faults I do recommend you pick a copy up. No plot, minimal dialog, and no nudity might not sound like much of a draw, but I did mention the hot, young local lads in muay thai shorts, right?
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