Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash, 2021.
Directed by Edwin.
Starring Marthino Lio, Ladya Cheryl, Reza Rahadian, and Ratu Felisha.
A man suffering from impotence meets the love of his life, but will his repressed childhood trauma allow him to be the man he wants to be?
One of the most eye-catching titles for a movie you’ll see for a while, Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is an Indonesian movie that is as hard to pin down as its main character is to beat in a fight. Ostensibly, this is an action movie that is attempting to take down the myths and stereotypes about action movies and offer an insight into toxic masculinity, which it does in a bit of a long-winded way, because this is a movie with a lot of messages but not always very clear ones.
The main character is Ajo Kawir (Marthino Lio), a regular(ish) guy who likes a fight and takes jobs as some sort of enforcer. He also has a problem performing sexually, which does go some way to explaining why he is like he is, as if his need to fight is his way of making up for his perceived lack of masculinity in other departments.
Whilst out on a job that involves having to cut the ear off a local crime lord, Ajo comes across Iteung (Ladya Cheryl), who is working as a bodyguard for said target, although she does so with some reserve as she doesn’t like him, but he does pay her well for her skills. Iteung is a highly skilled martial artist and she and Ajo get into a fight that sees them not only earn each other’s respect, but they also fall in love.
This is all in the first 20 minutes of the movie and provides you with your action movie fix as Ajo and Iteung perform an impressively choreographed fight scene, the sort of thing that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an’80s ninja movie (but without the shuriken throwing and swordplay). After that, we get more plot as the movie moves into romantic drama territory, including an unexpected pregnancy – which is especially unexpected to Ajo – and relationships being tested, with little bits of comedy and crime thriller peppered in before we get to the sudden and vague ending, and a sudden ending after nearly two hours of tonal shifts and genre crossovers is more than a little jarring.
However, despite the muddled delivery of what it is trying to say, Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is quite an entertaining ride if you are prepared to go with the fact that it is all over the place both tonally and narratively. The most engaging part is the second act where the romance blossoms between Ajo and Iteung, as their relationship seems genuine and both actors do have a chemistry that sells the idea that these two misfit characters would find each other.
Things only get confusing once the strain in their marriage is apparent and Iteung falls pregnant, the circumstances for that bringing in more characters, flashbacks and some writing that comes across as just plain odd, bordering on surreal, and this arty element does slow down the momentum that the first hour of the movie builds up. Yes, it does add a bit of depth and style here and there but after the action and the comedy it feels like more of a comedown than it really should.
Based on a novel written by Eka Kurniawan, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Edwin, Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is a very odd movie, one that never quite settles into being any one thing, and while that can be a good thing as it is never predictable, there is too much going on and a genre-hop too many to make it fully work as fully as the filmmakers intended.
It does pack a lot into its long running time, and it is easy to see where edits could be made as there are a few too many characters that appear for a scene or two and then vanish, but one gets the impression that editing and streamlining are anathema to the writer and the director, which is to be admired but for anyone not well-versed in the world of weird Asian cinema then Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is an oddity that will remain just that.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★