Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (2021)

Exciting yet elusive, violent yet convoluted, this Locarno Golden Leopard winner is a strange beast of ideas, tropes and moods.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,359

Dir. Edwin
2021 | Indonesia | Drama | 114 mins | 1.85:1 | Indonesian
M18 (passed clean) for sexual scenes

Cast: Marthino Lio, Ladya Cheryl, Reza Rahadian
Plot: A man’s raging urge to fight is driven by a secret—his impotence. When he crosses paths with a tough female fighter, he gets beaten black and blue, but also head over heels—he falls in love.
Awards: Won Golden Leopard (Locarno)
International Sales: The Match Factory

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate/Slightly Bizarre
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: The Projector
Spoilers: No

A few of my cinephile buddies have described this as Tarantino-esque.  Well, I very much agree that if Tarantino had been Indonesian, he might have made something like this.  It’s fun, vulgar, violent, and at times, veers into places where you wouldn’t have expected the movie to go. 

But unlike the films of Tarantino, which are complex yet startlingly clear, Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is fairly convoluted.  Though that isn’t exactly doing a disservice to Edwin’s new film; on the contrary, not entirely ‘getting it’ is part of the film’s elusive charm. 

Winning the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival, Vengeance is about Ajo and Iteung, who fall in love with each other.  But their first encounter is nearly a vicious fight to the death, expertly choreographed and shot in a style that reminds of old-school action B-movies. 

“If you want to fight, just tell me when and where.”

The whole film is a vibe, set in the ‘90s, and shot in Rembang in East Java.  From action to romance to crime to comedy to drama to even allusions to the supernatural, Edwin concocts a strange beast of ideas, tropes and moods. 

Ladya Cheryl is particularly good as Iteung, a strong female figure, and more importantly, a potent counterpoint to the toxic masculinity that pervades the film. 

Some may see Vengeance as a social commentary on the desire of men to prove their masculinity, and part of Edwin’s cheeky approach is to dissect the penis, metaphorically of course, and subject it to torment, assessment of virility, and perhaps even empathy. 

Distilled to its very core, Vengeance is a film about a man who can’t get it up.  But the world is unforgiving and unjust, so the penis must not waver and stay limp.  Women, of course, don’t have this problem—as such and as evident in the film, they become beacons of clarity in the endless fight against phallocentrism.

Grade: B+


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