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Film: Only God Forgives

Ladies, close your eyes. And you, gentlemen, watch carefully.

Only God Forgives is a 2013 film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Ryan Gosling and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Julian, an American, lives with his older brother Billy in Bangkok, where the Thai boxing club he manages is in fact a front for a drug-smuggling operation. One night, for unknown reasons, Billy rapes and brutally murders an underage prostitute. A local cop who moonlights as a vigilante arranges for the prostitute's father to beat Billy to death, setting in motion a chain reaction of revenge killings that eventually involves Julian and Billy's mother, who heads the family's criminal business. Caught in the mayhem, Julian begins to seek a way out.

In contrast to Refn and Gosling's previous collaboration, 2011's Drive, the film inspired booing and walk-outs during its screening at Cannes and attracted polarizing reviews. Several critics described it as a return to the darker, more oblique fare of Refn's earlier material after the comparatively accessible Drive.

Contains examples of:

  • An Arm and a Leg: the father of the prostitute Billy kills loses an arm to Chang for his failure to protect his daughter. At the end, Julian offers his own arms to Chang as repentance, for the evils he and his family have committed.
  • Abusive Parents: When Crystal isn't viciously berating or otherwise humiliating Julian, she gleefully manipulates him into doing her bidding.
  • A Father to His Men: The officers under Chang's command hold him in the highest respect.
  • Anti-Hero: Julian and Chang. Alternately, they could both be called Anti Villains.
  • Asian Hooker Stereotype: Referenced with aggressive sarcasm by Julian's mother, when Mai, his local girlfriend, introduces herself as an "entertainer".
  • The Atoner: Julian
  • Audible Sharpness: Chang's sword makes sheath-scraping noises when he draws it, despite the fact that he conjures it out of thin air.
  • Badass: Chang
  • Badass Grandpa: Chang is at least in his fifties and is still able to beat up the much younger and muscular Julian.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Julian spends the later parts of the film in a fancy three-piece suit. He squares off against Chang after removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves. However, he turns out to not be particularly badass, as his mother laments.
  • Bring It: After effortlessly manhandling Julian without so much as taking a formal fighting stance, Chang puts up his guard when Julian stands to face him again.
  • Body Motifs: Hands. Chang cuts off Choi's hand as punishment. Julian keeps staring at his hands while slowly making a fist, and has visions of Chang cutting his hands off. He has his hands tied to a chair while watching Mai masturbate. Later one of Crystal's henchmen has his hands pinned to a chair in a similar position. Julian also fantasizes about pushing his hand through a curtain and having Mai fondle it between her thighs. At one point he washes his hands and has a vision of the water becoming blood. It's implied that this is guilt over having beaten his father to death. In the end, Chang cuts his hands off for real.
  • Bruiser with a Soft Center: Chang unwinds by singing love songs in his favorite bar, and happily plays with his young daughter in his spare time.
  • Children Are Innocent: Chang's daughter is a sweet, gentle girl who imagines a world where her stuffed animals can solve their conflicts by talking things over.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Julian is on the receiving end of one from Chang.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Essentially the entire plot.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Julian thoroughly humiliates himself in front of Mai, and she abandons him.
  • Dirty Cop: Chang, in the sense that he executes people with impunity.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: The teenage prostitute whom Billy murders in an apparently gratuitous act of sadism.
  • Dream Sequence: Several scenes depict Julian either daydreaming, hallucinating or experiencing premonitions of some kind. These instances contain not only allusions to Julian's past and personality, but prophetic scenarios in which Chang appears from out of the shadows with his sword and cuts Julian's arm off. Refn covered very similar ground in Valhalla Rising.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Julian is a drug running fight fixer who violently takes out his frustrations on anyone in his general vicinity. He's appalled by his psychotic brother Billy's actions. He turns on his mother when she orders Chang's entire family killed, and saves his daughter's life.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Played with. Crystal's love for Billy doesn't make her any more sympathetic. Julian seems to have hated his brother, and his love for his mother is unhealthy at best.
  • Evil Matriarch: Julian's mother.
  • Eye Scream: Crystal's lieutenant suffers this at Chang's hands, along with Arm Scream, Leg Scream and a fatal case of Ear Scream.
  • Freudian Excuse
  • Gainax Ending: Julian gets his hands cut off and... Chang sings karaoke.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: A family trait for Crystal, Billy and Julian, who all explode at the slightest inconvenience. Crystal blasts a hotel clerk with a cold, condescending speech for not having her room ready. Billy assaults a pimp because he won't let him hire an underage prostitute. Julian throws a glass in a man's face, punches him to the ground and drags him away by his mouth because the man interrupted his brooding to offer him a drink.
  • Hammerspace: Chang can summon his sword from thin air by reaching behind his back and drawing it. It even makes scraping noises, as if it's being drawn from a sheath.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Julian.
  • Hero Antagonist: Chang is a particularly brutal one. Unless you believe him to be the main character.
  • Idiot Ball: In spite of being a ruthless drug queen who apparently realizes that Chang will be gunning for her soon, Crystal just hangs around her hotel until Chang arrives to execute her.
  • Incest Subtext: Played for absolute creepiness. When they meet, Julian's mother pretty much gropes him and later claims Billy was better endowed.
  • Invincible Hero: Chang, if you consider him to the the hero. He's unstoppable and infallible.
  • Jerkass: Julian's mother Crystal is an entitled, arrogant, manipulative, racist monster of a woman. His brother Billy, even discounting his brutal rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, is a condescending jerk to the fighters he and Julian manage. Julian himself has a Hair-Trigger Temper and takes out his anger on anyone in his way.
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Change dispenses his own justice upon Bangkok, going as far as to personally execute people with a sword.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • In his limited screen time, Billy does just about everything he can to let us know that he's a worthless human being.
    • Julian reveals that he's not a sympathetic antihero when he chokes Mai, screams at her and forces her to strip.
  • Knight Templar: Chang, who personally punishes everyone in his jurisdiction who runs contrary to his personal set of laws.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Julian's mother keeps pronouncing Mai's name "May", in an obvious show of disrespect.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Played with. Julian and Mai's relationship is purely a business transaction. Both parties may want something more, but Mai is not impressed by Julian's submission to his monstrous mother and subsequent bullying of her. After Chang handily beats Julian, Mai leaves him permanently.
  • Mommy Issues: This is the source of most Julian's and Billy's mental problems.
  • My Beloved Smother: From their very first scene, the power dynamic between Julian and his mother is obvious, with Julian being basically his mother's servant.
  • Noble Demon: Julian, who let his brother's killer go after learning why he killed Billy. Unfortunately, his mother doesn't share his morals.
  • Not So Stoic: Julian gets rather... livid with Mai after their dinner with his mother.
  • Oedipus Complex: Big time. There's some serious sexual tension between Crystal and Julian right from her first arrival, which is made overt when she starts caressing his bicep. In a later scene, she talks about the comparative penis sizes of her two sons. To top it off, we learn that Julian killed his father.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: Julian is distant and sullen, given to staring at his hands, which he slowly turns into fists. At one point he runs his hands under a faucet, but the faucet spews out blood. This is implied to be guilt over beating his father to death.
  • Parental Incest: It's heavily implied that Crystal has had sexual relationships with both her sons. She notably fondles Julian on several occasions.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Chang brutally punishes people who cross his moral lines.
  • Physical God: One interpretation of Chang that is supported by Word of God. Notably, when Chang is pummeling Julian, the camera frequently cuts back to a large religious statue featuring a Thai boxing warrior.
  • Playing Against Type: Kristin Scott Thomas, who normally plays more high-class and proper British characters, plays a ruthless, foul-mouthed, provocatively-dressed and American mafia drug lord who is even implied to have (or had) a sexual relationship with at least one, if not both of her sons. Playing against type indeed.
  • Professional Killer: Crystal hires a few to go after Chang. Big mistake.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Billy, and to a lesser extent Julian.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Crystal wants Julian to go on one. Julian is less than enthused at the prospect. Chang wages a perpetual one against anyone who commits crime in Bangkok.
  • Right Through His Pants: We're told that Billy raped and murdered a prostitute, but when we see her bloody body, she's still wearing underwear,
  • Scenery Porn: Neon lighting, often monochromatic, and extremely overwrought decorations in the various high-class night clubs.
  • Signature Style: Refn's stamp is certainly on the film. Many scenes are bathed in a single color of light, usually red, of which the colorblind Refn is particularly fond. Extensive use of Silence Is Golden was also used in Drive and Valhalla is Riding.
  • Silence Is Golden: A recurring trait of Nicholas Winding Refn's films. Most characters have only a handful of lines.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Julian's mother Crystal has an extremely foul mouth.
  • Smug Snake: Julian's mom is all around slimy, rude and smug to anyone she has power over, but becomes utterly terrified the moment she believes someone is a genuine threat.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Chang's signing a Thai love ballad is intercut with his torturing Crystal's right hand man to death.
  • Spiritual Successor: Shares a lot with Refn's previous films Valhalla Rising and Drive as well as Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence.
  • The Stoic: Both Julian and Chang let their actions speak, instead of their facial expressions.
  • Throw It In: The "cum dumpster" line was not in the script. When filming the scene where Mai meets Julian's mother, Refn asked Gosling to make a list of the worst things to call a girl. The chosen line was the first thing on the list.
  • Tranquil Fury: Even when infuriated by the atrocities criminals commit, Chang keeps up his calm demeanor.
  • The Unfavorite: Julian, which his mother says right to his face.
  • Vigilante Man: Chang.
  • Weapon of Choice: Chang metes out bloody retribution with a parang, a silat machete.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: In a less usual example, the son, Julian, is yearning for his mother's approval.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Julian, leading to his Heel Face Turn.
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