If there's one thing you can never say about popular HK director Johnnie To it's that his films lack personality. Case in point is his first France-HK co-production: Vengeance, which takes a wholly derivative plotline of a foreigner in a foreign land seeking retribution on the people who killed his grandchildren and gives us a quirky, off-beat but enjoyable brothers-in-arms action thriller.
Johnny Hallyday plays the man seeking vengeance: Francis Costello, who travels from France to Macau after his daughter and her family are brutally shot down in their own home by three local assassins. Costello is a fish out of water with no ties and no connections until he encounters and subsequently hires another trio of professional killers: Kwai, Chu, and Fat Lok. For the right price they're willing to work alongside him in investigating the crime and hunting down the killers, a mission that bonds all four men over a common goal, that is until a degenerative medical condition Costello is suffering from threatens to turn the hunt and their motivation completely on its head.
Vengeance exhibits Johnnie To's French influences upright and centre much like his earlier work Sparrow, and much like The Mission and Exiled we have a plotline centred around the comradery of a band of assassins, so this is a film that feels much like the filmmaker's greatest hits made for a Anglo-French audience. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but a sense of overfamiliarity and a distinct lack of inspiration in Wa Ka Fai's script often threatens to deflate Vengeance in a number of places were it not for the trusty director's trademark creative flair pumping it up at crucial moments.
The narrative is too derivative and the characterisation too superficial to justify even a running time of just under 110mins, but lethargy is overcome because To knows how to maintain viewer interest in a scene with little to no dialogue, most typically in highly stylised action sequences and playful inventiveness when exploring ways for Costello and the Asian hitmen to bond. So slow-motion shootouts struck with moody lighting and powdered blood spurts abound, but the heart of the film comes from the eminent likeability of the four avengers which stems from the assured performances of To regulars Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, Gordon Lam, and newcomer Johnny Hallyday.
The Disc: The HK Blu-ray release of Vengeance was a bit of a noise reduced mess so my hopes were not high for this UK release from Optimum, and I can say it pretty much lived down to those expectations. First the good: This release improves on the HK release in just about every area: colours are better saturated across the board, fleshtones can look a bit off at times but this seems to be in keeping with the look of the film; contrast is a touch high but again it feels like it should be, so expect deep blacks and hot whites in certain scenes - brightness levels and shadow detail are also solid.
Now the bad: The image still looks soft and over-processed, and while it's noticeably less affected by DNR than the HK release, there's still the lingering feeling that noise reduction may still be an issue because fine detail is appalling in some shots, mind you the VC-1 encode doesn't help by failing to render the fuzzy grain properly in places, resulting in a clumpy indistinct texture that's not very appealing and smeary in motion. Very sharp Edge Enhancement is also an issue and yes Anthony Wong's sunglasses are still clearly painted in around 37mins into the film.
The main audio option is an aggressive DTS-HD MA 5.1 track for the film's original mixed English/Cantonese/French audio that ticks all the boxes; it'll tear your speakers up during the shootouts and offers a layered, defined sound throughout - with clear and audible dialogue and solid sound field. The LPCM 2.0 track is understandably nowhere near as punchy but it offers a strong, nicely separated stereo surround experience.
Sadly this release is rather short on extras, containing a single trailer and a 10minute Making Of featurette that's a fairly standard talking heads piece with Johnnie To, Scriptwriter Wa Ka Fai, Anthony Wong, and Simon Yam talking shop.