Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive) directs this stylish east-meets-west thriller, set in the back alleys of Bangkok’s criminal underworld. Julian (Ryan Gosling) runs a Thai boxing club in Bangkok, as a front for his drug business. When Julian’s brother (Tom Burke) is killed, after savagely murdering a young prostitute, his mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), the head of a vast criminal organisation, arrives to collect the body. Crazy with rage and thirsty for vengeance she demands the head of the murderers from Julian; but first, Julian must confront Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), a mysterious retired policeman – and figurehead of a divine justice. This sets in motion a range of events, that leads to a bloody path of rage, betrayal, ultimate confrontation and possibly even redemption.
Director Nicholas Winding Refn discusses Only God Forgives:
The original concept for the film was to make a movie about a man who wants to fight God. That is, of course, a very vast obstacle but when I was writing the film, I was going through some very existential times in my life – we were expecting our second child and it was a difficult pregnancy – and the idea of having a character who wants to fight God without knowing why very much appealed to me. With that as the concept, I elaborated by adding a character who believes he is God (Chang), obviously the antagonist, with the protagonist being a gangster who is looking for religion to believe in (Julian). This itself is, of course, very existential because faith is based on the need for a higher answer but most of the time, we don’t know what the question is. When the answer comes, then, we must backtrack our lives in order to find the question. In this way, the film is conceived as an answer, with the question revealed at the end.
With hindsight, I am able to see the similarities between Chang and One Eye in Valhalla Rising, and Driver in Drive – all are rooted in fairytale mythology and have difficulties living in the everyday world. I can see that technically, there is a resemblance in their stoic behavior, silence, and fetishistic portraits even though they live in different times and are portrayed by different actors. In Valhalla Rising, One Eye is enigmatic – we don’t know his past but he is defined by his name. In Drive, Driver is defined by his function. And in Only God Forgives, Chang is first of all defined by his enigmatic behaviour, to such an extent that he becomes a disembodied character, an ‘it’, defined not by his name but solely by his image. In a way, Only God Forgives is like an accumulation of all the films I’ve made so far. I think I was heading toward a creative collision, full speed ahead, in order to change everything around me and to see what would come after. I have always said that I set out to make films about women but I end up making films about violent men. Now that everything is colliding, it may end up turning things upside-down for me. This collision is exciting because everything around me becomes so uncertain and we must not forget that the second enemy of creativity, after having ‘good taste’, is being safe.