'Only God Forgives' Director's Statement References His Past Films
One of my most anticipated films playing at the Cannes Film Festival coming up this month is Nicolas Winding Refn's latest, Only God Forgives, once again starring Ryan Gosling. It already reminds me of 2011, where I caught the world premiere of Drive in Cannes (my review), also starring Gosling directed by Refn. This time the two head to Thailand for a bloody revenge film about a kickboxer and a gangster named Chang. With the festival only a week away, marketing material has started to arrive, and The Playlist found the full director's statement and some new photos in the press notes for the film. It's worth a read because Refn admits comparisons between Only God Forgives and his past films and discusses the original concept.
Here's the full "directors statement" from Nicolas Winding Refn in the Only God Forgives press notes:
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.
In the trailers, Chang is the one walking around with the sword, played by Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm. The Playlist also reminds us that Refn originally had Luke Evans set for the lead of Julian, before it went back to Gosling. "Another actor was supposed to play Julian but pulled out close to shooting. Now I consider this a blessing because it allowed Ryan and me to continue our collaboration," Refn says. "Oddly, I'd written the screenplay before I made Drive and Julian had been conceived as a very silent character. When Ryan and I started to work on the script after Drive this language of silence came naturally, which was very useful since Julian is an extremely tortured character - he never goes towards others but withdraws into himself. With hindsight I can't imagine another actor playing this role. But again, Ryan and I are practically one."
While we've seen plenty of awesome trailers and footage so far, this is still one of my most anticipated of the summer. I love what how he ends saying the enemy of creativity is "being safe" and I can't wait to see how his version of "a movie about a man who wants to fight God" turns out. Only God Forgives premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on May 22nd, and will open in limited theaters starting on July 19th this summer.