Of all the characters onscreen, Kristin Scott Thomas has the most dialogue, and it's usually nasty. "I'm afraid of seeing her again. She has no problem turning on the bitch switch," Winding Refn admitted. "I was casting unknown actresses out of the UK, but then Kristin Scott Thomas read the script. We talked a lot about Lady Macbeth and those classical approaches to her character."
She wanted to do a transformation for Crystal, so a few days after meeting Winding Refn she sent him a picture of her in a long blonde wig. "It was Donatella Versace here we come," Winding Refn said. KST, as she is known colloquially onset, does a lot of mouthing-off in the film. At dinner, she calls Julian's date a "cumdumpster," a word that Refn picked up from Gosling when he asked for a list of the most demeaning sexist epithets to woman in America.
Another leitmotif is an image of Julian's hands, with literal and metaphorical blood on them, opening and closing. Several characters in the film have their arms and hands severed off by sword. Winding Refn's idea for "Only God Forgives" began with this kernel of an idea: a fist opening and closing. When the fist is closed, "it's an extension of the erection, and when you open up it becomes very feminine. I wanted to make a movie where the hand has to be amputated, and Ryan has great hands," Winding Refn said.
According to Winding Refn, the crew had seven nights to shoot in Bangkok: "This is very tough because of the heat. A lot of locations were sex clubs. Once you turn off the air conditioning, the smell of human 'pleasure' is quite intoxicating. I like being a stranger in a strange land. I live a mundane life in Copenhagen."
The film is dedicated to "Holy Mountain" director Alejandro Jodorowsky. I don't recall such an unusual and oddly befitting homage since Lars von Trier gifted "Antichrist" to Andrei Tarkovsky in 2009 (in each case, the audience snickered at the dedication). "I find that 'El Topo' really created modern pop cinema," Winding Refn said. "His inspiration has become invisible. He's almost 90 and I wanted to say goodbye. Because he's going to die."