Archives for posts with tag: ugly American

Only God Forgives

Ryan Gosling, fresh off of a revelatory turn in the excellent Place Beyond the Pines, unfortunately chooses to squander his talent in Only God Forgives, playing Julian, an American expatriate in Thailand whose boxing club fronts for a narcotics ring. When his immoral brother Billy (Tom Burke) kills a girl and is murdered in turn, Julian’s disgusting mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives from the States and insists that Julian seek revenge – even if this means eliminating a formidable police detective, Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm).

In a pretentious feat of style-over-substance showboating, director Nicolas Refn and his collaborators place so much emphasis on their ostentatious color schemes, self-conscious compositions, and generally gratuitous visual flourishes that they very nearly succeed in ruining what, in less limp-wristed hands, could have been a solidly gritty story of a family vendetta. Worst is that most of the actors in this nearly dialogueless drama appear to have been instructed to behave as robotically as possible, never smiling, as if every movement of every muscle is meant to convey existential angst, every second of every moment an endless Holocaust of the soul which, rather, screens as overly deliberate soullessness. The copious music of Cliff Martinez, a mixture of organic and synthesized sound, is both a blessing and a curse, as some lackluster scenes receive energy from these contributions, while others seem overly noisy where silence would be preferable.

The film does contain some very good scenes and in places achieves an adequate level of suspense. Those looking for action or for any kind of hero will be disappointed, however. An odd performance notwithstanding, the compulsively watchable presence of Ryan Gosling is, ultimately, at least half of what makes this idiosyncratic effort work to the modest extent that it does.

3.5 grudging stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Only God Forgives is:

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

6. Drug-ambivalent. The film passes no apparent judgment on the brothers’ drug trafficking. Different characters smoke in an indifferent manner, though Julian’s mother’s exhalations at a restaurant table would seem to be intended to parallel her disrespectful words.

5. Slut-ambivalent. While the film shows the physical danger that goes with a prostitute’s lifestyle, the representative whores are graceful and beautiful creatures who conduct themselves with elegant composure.

4. Pro-miscegenation. Julian engages in voyeurism and limited sexual contact with whores, not from any apparent apprehensions of disease, but out of a misplaced reverence for oriental pussy. His mother enjoys ogling Thai musclemen.

3. Pro-police. Chang, a karaoke singer, exemplifies the law enforcer as fetishized performance artist.

2. Anti-white/anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn). Several scenes juxtapose white characters’ rudeness, vulgarity, and presumption with Asians’ dignity, good manners, or superior fighting ability. Americans and Europeans, from a sense of their own superiority and Asians’ expendability, go to Thailand to exploit its people, causing them to prostitute themselves or hire themselves out as killers. Making no secret of her feelings, Julian’s mother refers to a “yellow nigger”. The film’s perpetrators also give clear expression to their European inferiority complex and belief in the awesomeness of things Asian by giving the title and credits in Thai, with subtitle-style English credits in smaller type beneath, so that no belching American privileged to enjoy Only God Forgives will get the mistaken impression that his entertainment is any more important than some Thai guy’s.

1. Anti-family. Grotesque family relationships abound in Only God Forgives. Julian, his lascivious mother relates, was envious of her sexual relationship with his brother Billy, and lives in exile after having murdered his father at her behest. A Thai man prostitutes his daughters and may be more aggrieved by the loss of revenue than the loss of his child after one of them is killed. The sight of a retarded boy, meanwhile, reminds viewers of the potential perils of unchecked procreation. Chang appears to have a loving relationship with his daughter, but the brief screen time devoted to this is too little to counterbalance the overwhelming abundance of family dysfunction. Julian acquiesces in his mother’s call for revenge only reluctantly, and with good reason, as his acknowledgment of a pointless blood obligation precipitates his downfall.

Java Heat poster

This innocuous fix of action exotica has renegade American counterterrorism agent Jake Wilde (obnoxiously handsome model type Kellan Lutz) sojourning in Indonesia in his hunt for the culprit in a string of international terrorist bombings. In a scenario reminiscent of Red Heat and The Kingdom, the irreverent, charmingly ugly American is teamed as an action odd couple with totally serious Indonesian counterpart Lieutenant Hashim (Ario Bayu). Naturally, this far-fetched pairing allows for corny intercultural bonding and mutual respect to develop as the two must set aside their differences if they are to rescue an abducted sultana (Atiqah Hosiholan) and save Lieutenant Hashim’s family from capitalo-terrorist Malik (Mickey Rourke, who tops himself for sleazy weirdness). Java Heat milks its colorful Indonesian locations to pleasing effect, lending to every scene a degree of novelty, and never slows down long enough to be less than amusing.

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Java Heat is:

10. Antiwar. Wilde’s younger brother, who joined the military to follow admiringly in his footsteps, is a casualty of the War on Terror.

9. Feminist. A female university student suggests that the sultana’s accession to the throne has been sabotaged for sexist reasons.

8. Anti-slut. Hookers are untrustworthy creatures. Their lifestyle is one of degradation, torture, and personal ruin.

7. Anti-drug. A nightclub slut slips a mickey into Wilde’s drink.

6. Anti-gay. Malik is a pederast. Wilde rebuffs the offer of ladyboy companionship.

5. State-skeptical/media-critical. A self-aggrandizing general plays to the media and stages a raid for publicity. News reports unjustly vilify Lieutenant Hashim.

4. Anti-capitalistic. Behind the highly publicized bogeymen of the War on Terror lies a cynical profit motive for conflict. Malik is the personification of western exploitation of Third World countries.

3. Pro-miscegenation. Wilde is initially a suspect in what is believed to have been the sultana’s death because he flirted with her at a royal soiree. He also has encounters with Indonesian hooker/masseuse types.

2. Pro-family. Wilde and Hashim, a model father, are both motivated by family-oriented grievances.

1. Multiculturalist. “We’re not all terrorists.” Like The Kingdom, Java Heat is at great pains to persuade western viewers that not all Muslims are evil and violent. Toward this end, the film presents an idyllic portrait of Lieutenant Hashim’s happy domestic existence and and his family’s hospitality. As always, the multicultural experience is a humbling one for the Caucasian and particularly for the American, who discovers that he is not so exceptional. “Americans. You are like children.” To Indonesians, an American is only a “bule dog”, or stupid white person. “From now on, we play by my rules. Java rules,” Hashim informs Wilde after getting the best of him in a physical altercation. Hashim embodies the film’s attempt to show that, along with the legendary corruption, the Third World also boasts truly devoted civil servants, dispelling Wilde’s colleague’s assertion that, “They’re all dirty in that country.” Indonesia, though plagued by terrorism, is depicted as representing a potentially peaceful realization of a multicultural society, with Hashim and a Christian colleague on the police force interacting as cultural equals.

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