By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist March 30, 2012 at 10:43AM
There are a lot of things we want to know about Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives," and we'll get to that movie in a moment, but first we need to address the image above. The picture has been one that has captivated and amused the Playlist staff if only because we have no idea what on Earth Refn is wearing around his waist or why. Well, mystery solved. "I like to wear that thing on set. It is as if it helps keep my energy," he recently told Liberation. In fact, it's a look he wears everyday to the set, and his wife reveals that the crew on her husband's last movie paid their respects to the director saying, "On Halloween, on the set of 'Drive,' the 75 people on the team all wore white shirts, glasses and a blanket around their waist. It was hilarious."
With that out of the way, let's get onto the new film, which the French paper had the pleasure of visiting on set (forgive the rough translations that follow). The film is one that once again finds Refn boldly moving into a new territory, in a script that his star Ryan Gosling has already said is the "strangest thing" he's ever read. The story centers on Julian (Gosling), who has lived in exile in Bangkok after killing a cop ten year ago. With his brother, he runs a Thai boxing club as a front for the family's drugs smuggling operation run by his Florida based Mom, Jenna (Kristin Scott Thomas). However, his brother gets into hot water when he murders a prostitute, and the cops call on retired cop Chang -- aka The Angel Vengeance -- to weigh in on the matter. And things get considerably sticky and bloody from there.
Shooting in Thailand has invigorated the Refn, who is clearly in awe of Bangkok. "I love this city. Sometimes it feels like the sets of 'Blade Runner,' " he said. "I could eat Thai every day, buy lots of toys, robots, movie posters. Yesterday I found two original posters for...'Godzilla.' Sublime." The director all took time to address the depature of Luke Evans, who was originally slotted for the lead role. "From the beginning, I had the idea of a thriller produced as a western, all in the Far East, and with a modern cowboy hero. I was lucky, Ryan Gosling has accepted the role when Luke Evans withdrew. He preferred to star Peter Jackson's 'The Hobbit'...Luke Evans' agent has probably done him a great service."
Refn's film are remarkable in many ways, but perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of his productions is that the director chooses to largely shoot chronologically. It's a practice he used on "Drive" and that he continues with this film. Working quickly, he eschews storyboards and notes, and often edits scenes the same day he shoots them (not unlike Steven Soderbergh). "I hate the idea that the film is over before we started shooting," Refn said. "I spent whole nights finding places in Bangkok. Especially in Chinatown, where most of the film unfolds. We saw dozens of nightclubs, each more kitsch than each other, the walls covered with carved paneling, thick velvet, with flowers in colored plastic gueulardes, erotic statues or classic gold...they give me ideas for scenes. It's like the neon lights in the streets, forming strange perspectives. No one realizes that once on site. Then I decide, and always by instinct."
But that's not to say he leaves his other movies behind as he shoots. Refn explains to Liberation that one scene in particular will mirror the strip club sequence in "Drive" where Driver confronts an assailant with a hammer and a bullet as the dancers look on in horror. "Only God Forgives" will feature a sequence in which Chang assaults a man in front of a dozen young women. "...There I had to find something else, then I did the opposite. They close their eyes, like dolls in a toy store, while a horrible thing unfolds before them," Refn explains about how he flipped the scene around.
And for what's next, Refn confirms it will be the horror movie/sex thriller "I Walk With The Dead," which will reunite him with "Drive" co-star Carey Mulligan. The details of the story are under wraps for now, but Refn reveals he's already eyeballing potential settings. "We signed a deal with [producers] Gaumont and, for distribution, Wild Bunch," the director said. "In essence, we make two films for the price of one. The budget for 'Only God Forgives' is $3.5 million. We exceed [that] perhaps a bit, but really not much. The second film is a horror movie...'I Walk With the Dead.' We'll turn to Los Angeles or Tokyo."
But for now, Refn is busy with "Only God Forgives" and editing as he shoots means he's working fast, and as he recently teased, we could be seeing the film as early as the Venice Film Festival this fall. And we certainly can't wait.