Genre-mash-ups can sometimes bite off more than they can chew. Attempting to navigate homage within multiple genres may not provide the time to develop an emotionally affecting story. In the case of Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash, the film crumbles under its own ambition. One part homage to Hong Kong films, while also spoofing 1980’s action and the use of melodrama, the new film from director Edwin spins its wheels in the third act. While the first two acts provide plenty of enjoyable sequences and action, a lack of character development prevents Vengeance from sticking the landing.
Set in the 1980s, Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash, follows the struggling Ajo (Marthino Lio). Facing impotence issues after his forced participation in a rape, he attempts to hunt down the gangsters who perpetrated the crime and his trauma. As he searches for these men, he meets Iteung (Ladya Cheryl), a young bodyguard meant to protect the men. As the two fight, they fall in love and eventually marry. However, Iteung and Ajo continue to struggle with his impotence and their past. As a result, each is sent down a path of discovery, some leading to violent ends.
Edwin’s ability to create comedic moments in fights serves the film well early. The fight sequences between Ajo and Iteung are genuinely funny, and the tone feels at home with Kung Fu Hustle or Drunken Master as they duel. Even in the absurdity of their fights, Lio and Cheryl create chemistry and an attraction that is impossible to ignore. The film lives in its 1980s aesthetic, capturing the vibe of machismo films that would make The Expendables jealous. While the film embraces this storytelling, it succeeds with humor and parody.
Cheryl and Lio strike up genuine chemistry over the film, building a relationship worthy of audience sympathies. One easily mistakes Vengeance for a romantic comedy when they play off each other. Lio plays into the goofy nature of his character and does an excellent job selling the physicality of the slapstick humor. Sadly, Lio proves overmatched by the melodramatic elements introduced to his character. Cheryl’s striking performance becomes the heartbeat of the film, especially as her trauma becomes overwhelming. As she struggles to carve out her place in a male-dominated world, Iteung can feel her confusion and anger through the screen.
Sadly, the darker comedic elements clash violently with the cartoonish whimsy. Ajo’s impotence may critique toxic masculinity, but it also partakes in the use of violent language. Men who act out get their due, but only after they perpetrate sexual violence on those around them. Vengeance never tries to absolve these men of their ill deeds, but the character forced to suffer the most over the course of the film is a woman. The length of the film highlights the tonal balance. Cutting fifteen to twenty minutes of side tangent would have
While Vengeance promises to be many things, it never delivers the goods on any of its ideas. It does not fully commit to the marital arts storylines after the first half of the film. In addition, it loses the humor in the second half of the film, creating an overly serious melodrama featuring vignettes of revenge. While the comedy is dark, the tone’s inconsistency makes it difficult to determine what is meant to be horrifying and what is meant to be played for laughs. The lack of cohesion sinks Vengeance from living up to its potential, even as it lays the groundwork for Edwin’s promise as a director.