Amazingly shot by Siu-keung Cheng and Hung Mo To and very well setpieced, "Vengeance" by Johnnie To is a cold film for the dish best served cold. At its center is Costello (Johnny Hallyday), a man losing his memory and thus losing his incentive for revenge. His daughter's husband was going to rat on an "expansive" crime boss, so the kingpin, George Fung (Simon Yam, goofily), sends out minions to shoot down the whole family, including the children (who are done in because one of the killers worries about being identified). In somewhat of an incomprehensible scene, his daughter, on her deathbed, tells him to get them back. And this he does, when he observes a hit put on by Fung's men and decides to withhold his knowledge from the feds and instead to get these guys on his side.
This film wouldn't be quite as good as it is without the cinematography or the tone. As Ebert said, it has the feel of a "western," with Spaghetti-style music to back it (sometimes gratingly) up. There were moments where I was completely blown away, like with the "picnic shootout" where leaves fall and the amount of light plays a role.
One element of the film that is a little dubious is Costello's amnesia, which is manifested in less convincing and somewhat unclear (yet still clever) ways than (as Ebert and my friend mentioned) "Memento" (a film that this one rips a little off of, though philosophically enough to be somewhat excused). In the film's climax, I was hoping that the film would delve farther into Costello's condition than it ends up doing, as to how he really remembers what he remembers and for how long and the real workings of his mind. This is not that kind of picture, as you may guess, although it is still a good one.
Though the ending seems a little like a cop-out when you're watching it (although I understand it now that my friend explained it to me), "Vengeance," with its "scarlet billows", is somewhat satisfying (though not completely, for reasons mentioned before and also because it's slight), a film that must have added a little spice to the Cannes 2009 Competition lineup that it debuted in. The detachnedness of Hallyday (and perhaps others) can be a little alienating at times (although this is perhaps the point, at least in Hallyday's case, though it may just be a little bad acting from everyone, including Hallyday). Overall, while being weak in spots, this is a film worth seeing, as it looks great and entertains a lot. B