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Interview: Nicolas Winding Refn Compares 'Only God Forgives' To A Rembrandt, Responds To Critics & More

by Jessica Kiang
May 29, 2013 2:45 PM
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Which of your films does “Only God Forgives” feel most akin to?
Valhalla Rising,” “Drive” and “Only God Forgives” are very similar in their structure and in their character…

You dedicate the film to Jodorowsky, who is all over this festival [his own film “Dance of Reality” showed here, as well as a documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune”]. Do you know his reaction?
Yes, he came to the red carpet [premiere] with me and he was very moved.

Moved by the dedication or the film?
I believe both -- he was speechless.

"The film is designed like that, like going to a museum and watching a painting, a Rembrandt, you’re going to see a thousand different elements within a single frame."
The soundtrack to the film is such a huge and distinctive part, tell us about working with Cliff Martinez.
Well, here we had a lot more time to work together and I really enjoy his approach and his music and I’d like to see him very much a part of my future projects. [This time] I brought him in at script stage, also because I needed help with the [Thai karaoke songs that punctuate the narrative] and he knew a lot about that.

And as for upcoming projects, we’re very excited about “I Walk With The Dead” with Carey Mulligan?
Yes, that’s in the drawing boards, it’s looking very good.

And we’ve heard it variously described as a sexy thriller, a horror movie, an all-female film...
All of the above!

So a sexy thriller horror movie with an all female cast?

And Carey Mulligan is still attached?
[Refn nods mysteriously, but when we point out that he’s nodding, he obligingly says into our voice recorder] I’m nodding, I’m nodding.

Any idea when it might shoot?
I have to finish the script first.

We had heard there was already some funding in place...
[Deliberately coy] There are... movements of events.

There’s also been talk of you and Gosling doing a comedy together, with Albert Brooks being sought to script?
It’s also on the drawing board. We’ve tried to persuade [Brooks], we can’t get him to do it, we’ve gotta find somebody else. Until he finally agrees to do it.

And your “Barbarella” TV show?
Now I’m writing, hopefully it will shoot early next year?

And how about casting the lead?
I’m attracted to the thought of an unknown.

Have you decided on the aesthetic you’ll use?
Hmm [laughs] a lot of sex and violence. Fetishized sex and violence.

There’s also "Button Man" - is that still happening?
I’m supposed to read a script…

“Drive” writer James Sallis has written a sequel “Driven” for which the movie is said to be in the pipeline. Have you been approached about that at all?
No. It’s never gonna happen. The movie’s not gonna get made, because they don’t have the key elements.

The key elements being you and Gosling?

And Gosling wouldn’t think of doing it without you?
I haven’t even thought about that, I mean...

But if it were to go ahead, what would your advice be to the filmmakers?
Don’t do it! Don’t do it. Well, what would they do?

Our precious few minutes up, just before Refn leaves he does mention one other project in response to a question about whether he’d like to further explore Asian culture, by which he was evidently fascinated in “Only God Forgives.” “I’m doing a movie in Tokyo,” he said, but then went on to state that this was not “I Walk With The Dead,” which was for a time rumored to be shooting there. He denied he could let slip any further details, before teasing with “Tok-y-o. I’d love to do a yakuza movie…” Make of that what you will.

“Only God Forgives” has a July 19th release date in the U.S.

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  • Cindy | July 16, 2013 5:33 PMReply

    Isn't the Toyko film likely to be the Valhalla Rising companion piece (prequel?).

  • Thai Cineaste | May 29, 2013 9:56 PMReply

    Refn has become a parody of himself. All the pseudo intellectual bullshit he's been feeding the press is really getting weary. His PR people should warn him that he's becoming a laughing stock. I laughed at the notion that Refn explored Asian culture or has any understanding or even an inkling of what that is just because he was shooting a film in Asia for a couple of months. He didn't know shit about Thailand and he's none the wiser when he left. His whole crew stayed at a luxury serviced apartment. They travelled around in rented cars. All the Thai crews were there to take his orders. Essentially he was living in a western life comfort bubbles that so many westerners came to exploit in Asia. I see them everyday here in Bangkok. Refn didn't explore any Asian culture. He had no real interest in it. Asian city just provided an exotic locale for ignorant white guy like him. Asian faces are just caricature props to his 'idea' of what being 'Asian' is like. And for him to interpret that when people hate his movie it means he's a genius filmmaker?!? Well....delusions of grandeur or narcissism are probably the least of what he's suffering.

  • Jackie Coogan | June 13, 2013 11:23 PM

    Nowhere in this interview does Refn that this movie is about asian culture. It dosn t even mention asian culture. Refn films arn't about culture. Why is it set in Thailand? I don t know I haven't seen the movie, But there's plenty of reasones to film a movie in a foreign state. It could have to do with the undergruond boxing, witch I know is importante to the film. Witch IS a culture aspect of Thailand. Even when a film is not about culture its always present. And that becouse culture is present in everthing we do. So even if everything you say about Refn he still got know the culture in some way. And thats not takin in acount the fact that he didn t go to thailand to film in sets. He went to film in the street, in the bars, in the nightclubls, in the undergruond boxing rings, etc. So he wasn t just holded in some western bubble.

  • Thai Cineaste | May 30, 2013 9:54 PM

    Yes Michael i caught this in Europe last week. I read the script months ago. Both the reading and viewing experiences induced boredom with illogical phony dialogue and stylistic violence pretension. Maybe because i understand Thai language as well to know that, hyperreal as it maybe intended, nobody speaks like that in Thailand. Refn can shout to death about what he intentionally left out, those unexplained depth and subtext blah blah, his end product still came up short. Pretty cinematography and nice music though. As usual, a long music video like Drive but this time a bigger FAIL.

  • Michael | May 30, 2013 8:53 PM

    I get your point. However, have you seen the film? That's what matters when it comes right down to it.

  • Thai Cineaste | May 30, 2013 11:25 AM

    Hahaha. Why don't you make me? You really ARE boring like your name. And predictable like your idol.

  • Boring | May 30, 2013 6:59 AM


  • David | May 29, 2013 5:24 PMReply

    Hopefully Logan's Run remake and Barbarella tv series never happens. Fingers crossed for "Button Man" and "I Walk With The Dead".

  • Lou | May 29, 2013 4:56 PMReply

    What a lot of poppycock!

  • yer | May 29, 2013 3:20 PMReply

    The "My film made you feel something" type of statements are some of the laziest responses to criticisms I can think of. I hate it, it doesn't mean anything.

  • David | May 30, 2013 8:55 PM

    It means his film made an impact (whether good or bad) and didn't leave you numb.

  • Drewbie | May 30, 2013 4:32 AM

    To be fair, criticism of Only God Forgives probably doesn't mean anything to Refn either.

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