Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

only god forgives poster

“Just let me tell you, if the tables were turned, your brother would have found your killer, and brought me his head on a platter!”
– Crystal

Two brothers staying in Bangkok, Thailand, are drug smugglers, and Julian (Ryan Gosling) runs a Muay Thai club to front the operation that they have. However, Billy (Tom Burke) rapes and kills an incredibly young, underage prostitute, and the girl’s father, Choi Yan Lee (Kovit Wattanakul), speaks with Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). Chang allows Lee to beat Billy to death to avenge his daughter and then progresses to cut off Lee’s arm for allowing his daughters to enter into such a profession. Julian and his crew do some digging to find out more about the man that murdered his brother, and track him down. Julian demands to hear the story, and decides to not kill the man. He had his reasons, and Julian cannot argue them.

However, Julian’s mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) is infuriated to learn of Julian’s inaction when she arrives in Bangkok to identify her eldest son’s body. She demands vengeance, and Julian is simply not prepared to give it to her. Crystal seems intent on avenging Billy, no matter whether or not Julian agrees. She is aggravated that her son seems to agree with the reasoning behind Billy’s death, and takes her anger out on him. Julian takes his prostitute, Mai (Rhatha Phongam), to meet his mother, pretending she is his girlfriend. He most awkward and accusatory and offensive dinner follows that, as well as a fight between Mai and Julian when she expresses her confusion in his allowing his mother to treat him in such a dreadful manner.

only god forgives dreadful dinner

“Billy was my first son. We had a very special relationship. Julian was so jealous. It was like he was cracked or something. He had paranoid delusions about us.” – Crystal

All the while that Crystal is belittling her youngest son; she has Gordon, a man who is part of Julian’s crew, to get one of the club fighters to assassinate Lee. Billy’s death having been successfully avenged leads a new murder investigation into Julian’s club. However, Chang concludes that Julian is innocent of Lee’s. Crystal, what with all her interfering and ferreting around, discovers that Chang was involved with Billy’s murder. She has a meeting with an associate, Byron (Byron Gibson), and arranges Chang’s assassination.

only god forgives strip the hooker bare

“Why do you let her treat you like that?” – Mai

A full-scale war has broken out between Crystal and Julian’s cohorts and Chang. Chang is intent on seeing justice served, while Crystal, seeing how badly her silly decisions are bombing, insists on wreaking havoc in Bangkok. Julian finds himself being drawn in against his will. Will Chang remain the pillar of the community, even though his methods are brutal? Will Crystal have her way and kill Chang? What will he stupid obsession cost the people that are involved, however peripheral? Chang is smart, and will find out exactly who was behind what, and kill his way up the food chain. Julian, on the other hand, is loyal, and even though he is not happy, he will kill his way over to Chang, too, just to satisfy his mother. How will it all end? Was avenging Billy’s death even worth it?

only god forgives absurd fight

“Want to fight?” – Julian

A 3/10 for Only God Forgives. I cannot believe I allowed myself to get sucked into the curiosity of watching this junk. I should have listened to Eric over at the IPC. His review was damn spot on about it (heat that he garnered and all). Why was I so insistent on wasting my time? It was absolutely dreadful to say the very least. I didn’t enjoy anything out of it, and I really wanted to. I just had my mind blown by Drive, and then I got onto this crap. WHY?! That is all that I can say. Nothing about this movie was decent. Nothing was ok. It sucked and it was all just nasty. The story was stilted and all over the show, and the progression of it was also stunted. It just didn’t follow logically. They key points all managed to line up together by the end of it, and you got what the story was about, even while you were watching this ghastly tale, but it was just not done properly. I am sure there was potential to it, but no. Not for me. It just didn’t work in my opinion. Crystal was so revolting, and the relationship between her and her son Julian was just ridiculous. Apparently Ryan Gosling managed to lose his ability to string a coherent sentence together for the duration of this abomination. I know that this is a movie you love or hate, but I am solidly on the hating it side of things, without a doubt. Half the time you weren’t sure if Julian was cooked or if anything really was happening, what he was thinking or truly taking a part in. I could deal with that if only there was something more compelling about the film! I love a tale of madness, but really?! Also, what the hell was up with all the karaoke? It was just so randomly put in all over the show. The dialogue set my teeth on edge, it was so uncalled for, ridiculously cheap and trashy and made virtually no sense. No thank you. I was so disappointed to know that this was brought to us by Nicolas Winding Refn… This is something I feel bad for wasting my precious time on, and certainly not something I will watch again.

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37 thoughts on “Review: Only God Forgives (2013)

  1. Joseph@thecinemamonster says:

    Ahhhhh! Noooo! This movie is phenomenal, why does everyone misjudge it! I let Eric have it, now it’s your turn ;). Besides you and Eric, most of our fellow bloggers really enjoyed it. It’s visually striking and acted amazingly. It’s a tale about the Devil, God, and Humanity!

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    • Zoë says:

      Teehee. I know Eric got it from you. I see that a lot of our fellow bloggers did, but I won’t lie, I didn’t get it. Eric was the only one that really bitched, so I was like I want to enjoy this thing, so many of my other peers did. Then I watched it. Why, world, why? 😛

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    • Zoë says:

      I know you did. Your review was one of the reviews I wanted to watch it and like it. I am glad that you enjoyed it. It really just didn’t work for me though. I didn’t even realize it was Refn until the credits rolled, then I thought I was going to cry. It was truly a whole new kind of movie, but… eish (as we say in South Africa – so applicable).

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  2. Mark Walker says:

    You listen to that Eric too much. 😉

    I really enjoyed this. The problem that many have faced while watching it is taking it at face value. It’s not meant to be viewed that way. It’s the symbolism and metaphor that really brings the richness of this film out. Granted, it was no Drive, but how many films are?

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    • Zoë says:

      LOOOOL! You tell him that! 😛

      I have read that people say that, and I tried. I read a lot of reviews really getting into the thick of all that, but it just didn’t do it for me, metaphors or not. I was seriously let down, and I tried really hard with it. The longer I watched, the worse it got for me, to be honest.

      Alright, there you have a point. Drive really was just… wow.

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  3. imsupersaiyan says:

    Oh man, that sucks, I was kind of looking forward to watching this movie. (Drive is like one of my all time favs) I do have to say that I’m not a fan of cheap dialogue though, so if that’s what you meant when you said that it put your teeth on edge?

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  4. ckckred says:

    Nice review. Have this on the line-up but I’ve been cautious on watching it. I was a huge fan of Drive, but the reviews have put me off of seeing Only God Forgives.

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    • Zoë says:

      Thank you. Drive is worth being a fan of, this one not so much. Check it out and decide for yourself (though you have been warned! :P). I watched it just to see why there was such a split over it.

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  5. GaryLee828 says:

    Zoe, I understand where you’re coming from. The first time I watched this I felt the same as you; however, after viewing the film I did some research online and read about it, and discovered some of the meanings of the metaphors and symbolisms that I did not understand the first time I watched, and so I gave it a second viewing and loved it!

    The film has to be viewed through a certain set of eyes, or it won’t make sense.

    For example, you were asking about the karaoke scenes and the meaning: over there in that culture karaoke is like a spiritual thing. Notice every time Chang sings karaoke it follows him delivering brutal justice to someone, whether it’s to kill the person, or just slice off a limb. So, he follows the act up with karaoke, which cleanses his soul. This is probably why the people in the karaoke bar watch him so closely b/c they support him.

    Also, Chang is actually the representation of God. But more of an Old Testament version before Christ was born. But Chang represents God, and takes righteous judgment to those who deserve it, such as Billy and Crystal. He doesn’t murder Julian at the end, but instead chops off his hands b/c Julian’s hands are the things he cannot control and consume him and tempt him to do evil.

    Read my blog entry about it now that you’ve seen it, and see if it makes any more sense: http://garylee828.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/accurately-interpreting-only-god-forgives/

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    • Zoë says:

      Thanks Gary. I looked into a lot of the symbolism when people spoke about having to look for the metaphors and comparisons and symbolism, and I see how it is supposed to work, I just really didn’t like it. Like I said, the speech really set my teeth on edge. Maybe sometime I should give it a second viewing to see if my opinion changes, but it just didn’t work for me the first time around.

      I will definitely go check your post on accurately interpreting Only God Forgives.

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