Only God Forgives

I'm such a sucker for movies that even though the trailer for Sin City: A Dame To Kill For looked terrible and even though the reviews were awful I was still tempted to go see it when it got to the cheap theaters. There's certain things that I know it's going to do well and other things that are going to drive me crazy, so I can't quite write it off beforehand, but I also have no reason to expect that I'll like it. I'll probably end up going just so I can be done with it, because I kind of want to get it off my mind.

The first time I saw Only God Forgives I was mostly focused on how it fits into director Nicolas Winding Refn's style. (It's very much of a piece with his other movies, like Valhalla Rising.) But for some reason when I was rewatching it today I could only think about Sin City. That might be just because Sin City is on my mind, but I think it's actually an interesting comparison that's worth exploring. In some ways, Sin City and Only God Forgive are very similar, and in other ways they couldn't be more far apart.

Both are in the vein of Old Testament stories: they are set in cities full of wickedness, where most of the women are whores but some of them are killers, and where the sins of the father are set upon the son. Rehabilitation is not an option for these people; one way or another they must be burned by the fire of an avenging angel if they are to escape intact.

While they might share a similarly harsh moral universe, however, they could not be more stylistically opposite. Sin City's color palette is deliberately muted, not exactly black and white, but certainly stark, with blackness always encroaching on the characters from the edge of the frame. Only God Forgives is feverishly vivid, with all the colors (especially the reds) as saturated as they can be. Frank Miller's dialogue is over-written, a steroidal version of pulpy detective speak that it almost seems like a bad joke, while Only God Forgives has almost no dialogue at all. The plots mirror the dialogue: the first Sin City movie combined three separate stories into one movie, overstuffing it, while Only God Forgives barely has any plot at all. The City in Sin City is presented in such an over-stylized manner that it never feels like a real place, while the Bangkok of Only God Forgives has a tangibility that grounds the story even when the characters seem like abstractions.

Perhaps I would have made a mental connection between Sin City and Only God Forgives even if the Sin City sequel hadn't been on my mind; that movie is almost a perfect yin to this movie's Yang, since they are both fixated on the wickedness of the world, but at every point where of those movies tends towards miminalism the other will head towards maximalism and vice versa. If you could somehow combine the best part of both films you would have a perfectly prophetic hallucination of violence. Or maybe you'd have the worst film of all time, a stylistic mishmash that's an unending smorgasbord of over-the-top violence. I can't quite decide if I would want to see Only God Kills For Dames in the City. But you know, that's a problem I have a lot.

Winner: Me

Only God Forgives on IMDB