Only God Forgives

Only God Forgives Information

Only God Forgives (Thai: ???"??"?"??????????"??) is a 2013 Danish-Thai co-production crime thriller film written and directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Vithaya Pansringarm. The film was shot on location in Bangkok, Thailand, and is dedicated to French-Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.


Julian is an American expatriate living in Bangkok, Thailand who runs a boxing club, which is actually a front for a massive drug smuggling operation. His older brother Billy brutally rapes and kills an underage prostitute before surrendering to the Thai police. Lieutenant Chang " known as the "Angel of Vengeance" " arrives on the scene before informing the girl's father, Choi Yan Lee. Chang allows Choi to beat Billy to death, but cuts off the man's arm for allowing his young daughter to remain in the business of prostitution.

Julian and his crew go to Choi's kiosk to confront him about his part in Billy's murder. Choi reveals that he was forced to kill Billy by the "Angel of Vengeance", and, by having his arm severed, has paid the price for his crime. Julian is mesmerized by the near-mythical Angel of Vengeance and spares the man's life. Julian's mother, Crystal, arrives in Bangkok to identify Billy's corpse, much to Julian's surprise. Crystal demands Julian find and kill the men who killed Billy, but he refuses"?believing that Billy deserved what he got for his vile crimes against Choi's daughter"?infuriating her. Crystal demands that Julian kill the Angel of Vengeance, but he again refuses.

One night, Julian brings a prostitute, Mai, to meet Crystal, who immediately begins hurling insults at her and Julian. Meanwhile, Liang, one of the fighters at Julian's boxing club, assassinates Choi at the behest of Gordon, a member of Julian's crew, at Crystal's request. Julian finds out Gordon is responsible and tries to kill him, only to be interrupted by the arrival of police, including Chang. Chang concludes that Julian is not Choi's killer, and Julian realizes that Chang is the Angel of Vengeance.

Crystal meets with an associate, Byron, to arrange Chang's assassination. Three gunmen are sent to kill Chang at a restaurant, and one of Chang's men is fatally wounded in the ensuing shootout. Chang manages to kill two of the gunmen and capture the third, who leads him to his boss Li Po, after which Chang kills the third gunman. Li Po points Chang to Byron, who ordered the hit. Chang finds Byron in a club and tortures him to get answers. Byron reveals the reasoning behind the hit, but refuses to give a name. Chang continues to torture Byron, severely injuring his eyes and ears.

Julian confronts Chang about his role in Billy's murder and challenges him to a fight in the ring. Julian and Chang fight on the bare concrete floor of the boxing venue. Chang, an experienced boxer, easily and thoroughly beats Julian. Afterward, Crystal tells Julian that Chang has figured out she ordered the hit on him. Fearful, she orders Julian to kill him to avoid reprisals. Julian agrees.

Julian and his associate Charlie Ling enter Chang's apartment, intent on ambushing him when he returns. At the same time, Chang and a police officer visit Crystal and Chang cuts her throat after she reveals that Julian murdered his own father and suspected her and Billy of having an incestuous relationship. Meanwhile, Charlie informs Julian that he was instructed to execute not only Chang, but his entire family. Charlie murders Chang's wife as she enters the apartment, but Julian shoots Charlie dead as he advances towards Chang's young daughter.

Julian returns to the hotel and finds his mother's corpse. In silence, Julian approaches her body and cuts open part of her stomach. He slowly places his hand inside of the wound, and then retracts it. After leaving and having several surreal visions, Julian is shown standing in a field with Chang, who appears to cut off both of Julian's hands with his sword. The final scene shows Chang singing karaoke at his favorite bar with the entire police force and attendants watching with respect and amazement at Chang.


  • Ryan Gosling as Julian, an American who lives in Bangkok and "is a respected figure in the criminal underworld" according to a production synopsis. Gosling was in negotiations to star in the film in June 2011 after Luke Evans dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Gosling had undertaken Muay Thai training in preparation for the role by that September, which included 2"3 hour daily sessions. Refn also participated in the training. Gosling and Refn had recently worked together on the neo-noir crime drama Drive (2011).
  • Kristin Scott Thomas as Crystal, Julian's mother, who is described as "a merciless and terrifying mafia godmother" combining elements of Lady Macbeth and Donatella Versace. Scott Thomas was cast by May 2011.
  • Vithaya Pansringarm as Lt. Chang/ "The Angel of Vengeance", a man that believes himself to be "God". Pansringarm did his own thai boxing and singing for his role.
  • Rhatha Phongam (Yaya-Ying) as Mai, a prostitute associated with Julian
  • Gordon Brown as Gordon, Julian and Billy's lieutenant. Brown earlier played a walk-on role in Refn's Bronson and a supporting part in Valhalla Rising.
  • Tom Burke as Billy, Julian's brother
  • Byron Gibson as Byron
  • Danai Thiengdham as Li Po
  • Sahajak Boonthanakit as Pol Col. Kim
  • Nophand Boonyai as Charlie
  • Teerawat Mulvilai as Ko Sam
  • Kovit Wattanakul as Choi Yan Lee
  • Wittchuta Watjanarat as Ma Fong


Refn has said that "[f]rom the beginning, [he] had the idea of a thriller produced as a western, all in the Far East, and with a modern cowboy hero." He originally planned to direct Only God Forgives directly after Valhalla Rising (2009), but he accepted Gosling's request to direct Drive instead. Gosling has described the script of Only God Forgives as "the strangest thing I've ever read and it's only going to get stranger." Like Drive, Only God Forgives was largely shot chronologically and scenes were often edited the day they were shot.

Footage was screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Refn drew a connection between Only God Forgives and Drive, saying that "[Only God Forgives] is very much a continuation of that language""?"[i]t's based on real emotions, but set in a heightened reality. It's a fairy tale."


The film received a very divided response at its Cannes press screening; it was booed by many of the audience of journalists and critics while also receiving a standing ovation. It received a polarizing response from mainstream critics: review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 40% based on reviews from 134 critics, with a weighted average of 5.1/10. Metacritic assigns the film a weighted average rating of 37 out of 100 based on the reviews of thirty-eight professional critics.

Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph reflected concerns over the film in a three out of five star review. "The film's characters are non-people; the things they say to each other are non-conversations, the events they enact are non-drama," he wrote. But he praised Refn for following up his commercially successful film Drive with "...this abstruse, neon-dunked nightmare that spits in the face of coherence and flicks at the earlobes of good taste".

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave it five out of five stars, calling it gripping and praising the "pure formal brilliance" of every scene and frame, though he notes that it will "have people running for the exits, and running for the hills" with its extreme violence. In an alternative review published in The Guardian, John Patterson was highly critical of the film, citing its lack of originality and the low degree of focus on plot: "Somewhere in here is a story that Refn can hardly be bothered to tell... I feel the ghosts of other movies " his influences, his inspirations " crowding in on his own work, suffocating him, and somehow leaving less of him on screen."

Bill Gibron of PopMatters wrote "David Lynch must be laughing. If he had created something like Only God Forgives, substituting his own quirky casting for the rather staid choices made by actual director Nicolas Winding Refn, he would have walked away from Cannes 2013 with yet another Palme d'Or, another notch in his already sizeable artistic belt, and the kind of critical appreciation that only comes when a proven auteur once again establishes his creative credentials."

Richard Roeper of Chicago Sun-Times gave this film a positive review, giving it three and a half stars saying: "Refn's follow-up effort to the similarly polarizing Drive (which I thought was flat-out great) is even more stylized and daring. Drive star Ryan Gosling (who is clearly interested in carving out a career with at least as many bold, indie-type roles as commercial, leading-man fare) strikes a Brando pose playing Julian, a smoldering, seemingly lethal American who navigates the seediest sides of Bangkok."


The film won the Grand Prize at the Sydney Film Festival.

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