"Chapter 1: Murdering the madman in the devil".

A foul-smelling sack is found floating in a nearby river. The local cops retrieve it and, fearing the worst, take it back to their labs for closer inspection. Upon slicing the sack open, their fears are confirmed when the remains of an unborn baby, torn from its expectant mother’s womb, spill out.

This isn’t the first such parcel they’ve uncovered. A serial killer is at large in Hong Kong ... with all the female victims being pregnant relatives of cops.

A police ID card found at the scene of the latest crime leads the cops to an apartment, which they find covered in gore. In the centre of the living room lies the corpse of a woman, her stomach ripped open with a bloody placenta hanging from it.

Under pressure from the media to trace the killer, the cops soon have a suspect in the guise of young Kit (Juno Mak). After finally capturing him during his attempt to escape Hong Kong quietly on a public bus, they take him back to the police station were detectives Jeff (Ching Siu Ho) and Kwok Wah (Tony Ho) interrogate him. Prepare yourself for the most OTT example of police brutality served by cinema in aeons.

Despite the abuse, Kit remains silent throughout the ordeal and the cops have no choice but to release him.

Could he really be the killer? If so, what is his motive? And what led the cops to him in the first place: what is his relationship with them?

All is answered in good time, by way of flashbacks, episodic narrative methods and an almost operatic take on the central theme which draws comparisons in scope to the recent I SAW THE DEVIL.

From the opening scene of a heavily pregnant woman frequenting a convenience store, set to the ominous strains of Dan Findlay’s alternately menacing and beautiful score, REVENGE oozes with an oppressive, downbeat tone.

The saturated colour schemes and dark production designs echo David Fincher’s SE7EN, as does the chaptering device (six in total), but this is no simple copycat. The decidedly non-linear machinations of the screenplay give REVENGE a style of its own, and the gruesome detail goes several steps further in detailing the killer’s crimes than in Fincher’s celebrated vehicle. Most of all though, there is a deep emotional core to REVENGE that helps it resonate much deeper than simply impressing in terms of style and shock value.

Performances are solid and convincing across the board, as are the low-key FX and the drab interior designs. From the introductory text onwards, it’s apparent that director Ching-Po Wong is striving to give us a snapshot of Hell on Earth ... and he succeeds.

All of which is very good, but REVENGE could well have been little more than a well-executed exercise in depression-inducing darkness were it not also for its tight, involving script and remarkable attention to procedural detail which helps lift it from the wallow it otherwise would’ve been.

On a personal note, some of the more stylistic moments grate a little – slow-motion chase sequences; unnecessary but arty close-ups on extraneous objects – but, by and large, this is filmmaking of a very high and deeply engrossing level.

If in doubt about its emotional hook, my advice would be to stick with the film past its first third. The disjointed narrative settles somewhat at that stage and affords the viewer more time to invest in Kit’s character. This is vital, come the slightly long-winded but theme-revealing final third.

All in all, REVENGE: A LOVE STORY is a superior film with style, panache and subtext to spare.

REVENGE is presented uncensored in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is 16x9 enhanced and is generally good. It does, however, exhibit slightly soft imagery and a washed-out colour palette akin to many contemporary genre films from Hong Kong. Some motion blurring was evident and, although minor, is the greatest concern I have about this transfer.

Original Cantonese audio comes in a solid 2.0 mix along with a more robust, upfront 5.1 offering. Both are clear and unproblematic. Optional English subtitles are largely well-written and easy to read at most junctures.

Terracotta’s DVD opens with a trailer for DEATH BELL. After that, it takes us into a static main menu page. A scene-selection menu is also static, allowing access to the main feature by way of 12 chapters.

Extras begin with a decent shot-on-video Making Of documentary. This mashes together candid interviews and involving behind-the-scenes footage to create a satisfyingly informative whole. This is presented in Cantonese with English subtitles.

An interview with producer Conroy Chan is presented in English and offers more valid titbits about the film’s conception, casting etc.

‘About Terracotta’ is, disappointingly, a single-page advert for the distributor’s website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

Much better is a 5-minute documentary looking into the Terracotta Film Festival, an annual fest which celebrates the best in new movies from the Far East.

Bonus features are rounded off by a selection of trailers for other titles available from Terracotta: BIG TITS ZOMBIE, HANSEL AND GRETEL, THE FOX FAMILY, THE DETECTIVE, GOD MAN DOG, BREATHLESS, SPARROW and DEATH BELL again.

REVENGE: A LOVE STORY is an intelligent, grim and thought-provoking film that deserves to be seen. Well worth a look, and Terracotta’s disc serves the film quite well.

If the IMDb is to be believed, REVENGE: A LOVE STORY opened theatrically in the UK in November 2011, playing in just one cinema on its first weekend. The takings were reportedly £29, which by my reckoning means perhaps 4 people bothered to go and see the film. If this is true, that’s appalling – here’s hoping the film finds the audience it deserves on DVD.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Terracotta
Region 2 PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review