2021, Movies

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (2021, Edwin)

This film is many things all at once. It is, kind of incredibly, based on a novel, which made my confusion over what happens all the deeper, as the thing that I can’t resolve feels like its the kind of issue that wouldn’t exist in a book. So I’m wondering if something was lost in translation, either from book to screen or from Indonesia to North America.

So, this film is a bit of a tribute to ’80s martial arts films, combined with a love story, combined with some supernatural elements combined with a lot of comments about impotence, at least at first. (I’m probably missing something.) The film has some strange tonal shifts and takes place over a quite a long period of time, jumping ahead arbitrarily.

But, in some ways, it just two movies, the story of the couple who meet while fighting, with the man struggling with impotence (that seemingly the entire country knows about), and the story of a woman who was either raped or turned into a prostitute who seeks revenge, but who is now dead (we think). Though I can’t say I loved every aspect of the first, main film, it struck me as coherent, as a film that made sense to some degree. Though it was a weird story, it worked in its own peculiar way. (Again, I didn’t necessarily love it, but I didn’t necessarily dislike it either.) However, the supernatural story that is essentially another film just derails everything. We’re not sure what’s happening. (And, honestly, from what I’ve heard, the filmmakers might not know exactly either.) Not only does it add confusion to what is happening on screen, it crucially adds runtime, runtime that makes the film drag.

Now, as I said before, it’s possible that I’ve missed something here. It’s possible that the supernatural elements in this film are referencing elements of Indonesian culture that I am just ignorant of. But I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some massive narrative problem here. And, to me, the main story would make so much more sense and would work so much better – despite the weird tonal shifts, despite the jumps in time, despite the kind of weird plot – without the supernatural element.

But I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like that. And that’s something.


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