“A jumble of contradictory genres”
As a storyteller, it’s tempting to throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. Often, the combination of elements is enough to make the show worth watching. Even in situations where objects slide across the floor, seeing someone make a big attempt is enough to attract attention. And rightly so, director Edwin made this big attempt with his film Revenge is mine, everyone else pays cash. Many films have had a heartfelt romance at their center, and others have had elaborate martial arts. But almost none of them tried so hard to combine the two styles. Whether the results are worth it is another question …
At the heart of the story is Ajo Kawir (Marthino Lio), a man who constantly has the urge to fight. Whether it’s for money or just for fun, Ajo is here to hold on and win. Unsurprisingly, there is a reason for his unwavering anger: he suffers from a severe case of erectile dysfunction. Along the way, he meets a bodyguard named Iteung (Ladya Cheryl) and soon gets into a brutal brawl with her. But even with Iteung tiring it out, Ajo can’t help but spark a romantic relationship. For the first time in ages, he wants to do more than try to be the last man standing. Still, there is an uncertain future, and it changes Ajo and Iteung’s life.
Yes Revenge succeeds in everything, it is in the capacity to engage its public early. First of all, Edwin clearly expresses his love for Hong Kong cinema in the fight scenes. The choreography borders on ballet and the camera only moves to underline the movement of the actors. In any case, the filmmakers do not make the crucial fight between Ajo and Iteung in a total blur. Plus, it takes a lot of its early ’90s decor. From the first minute, the film reels in its lo-fi, grainy aesthetic thanks to its use of 16mm film. As for the music, it uses an electronic score that is both simple and whimsical.
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I wish the filmmakers would find a way to keep that initial momentum going, though. Because after the opening act, Revenge begins to completely collapse at the seams. While the action element never quite wears off, it does start to transform into a dark, seedy tone that poorly matches everything that comes before it. As for romance, it luckily holds up for a while. After all, the middle act revolves around some sort of love triangle. Yet the transition between genres is not gradual, and it only gets worse as it continues. Given that its 114-minute battery life is by no means fast, it’s clear we’re in for a tedious task.
Edwin and Eka Kurniawan’s storyline also has a huge issue with introducing too much detail as it progresses. From the way I described the plot, it looks like Ajo and Iteung are growing up as a couple who thrive through tough events together. And yet, there’s a long time when the two don’t interact much at all. It can be argued that this section intends to develop Ajo’s struggle with his own masculinity. However, this so-called exploration does not add anything that was not already evident in the opening. And just to make things more complicated, a lot of the final act focuses on a character who may or may not be a ghost.
Like most movies that are messy, it’s hard to blame the performers. Ajo appeals to someone who can move seamlessly from expressing tenacity to vulnerability, and Lio fits this bill perfectly. Whenever he takes part in a fight, he brings a ton of anger to the fore. And for the times he talks to Iteung about his helplessness, his gentle, childish looks take center stage. Interestingly enough, the same can be said about Cheryl. Besides being a lover, she must also be an agile and unpretentious fighter. And in that regard, she arguably makes a greater impression.
I admire filmmakers who do their own rounds of genre conventions. Additionally, it functions as a strong proof of concept for Edwin as a director of Hong Kong-inspired action films. Still, I like to think that capitalizing on potential is one of the best things a project can accomplish. And in the case of Revenge, it is not something that appears to be under consideration. Hopefully Edwin takes a more cautious approach to making a story in the future. – Marc Tan
Revenge is mine, everyone else pays cashThe release date for has yet to be announced.