TIFF 2021 Coverage: Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (2021) - Reviewed


Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (2021) is an intriguing mix of ideas, a throwback love-letter to low budget Indonesian '80s action films but also a touching love story with a sly critique of toxic masculinity.

Ajo Kawir (Marthino Lio) is known for his penchant for violence in the local community, so much so that he is hired to be an enforcer and beat the living hell out of people for a multitude of reasons. There is a secret behind Ajo's seemingly limitless savage energy--he has suffered from erectile disfunction for his entire life. His sexual impotence is channeled into garish alpha male bravado, and he stops at nothing to show everyone that he is a "real man". 

On an assignment he meets a fellow thug, a fiery young woman named Iteung (Ladya Cheryl), an equally proficient fighter who subsequently administers a severe beatdown on him. Instead of being angry, Ajo is aroused and so blossoms an unconventional and volatile romance between the two.

Aesthetically, the film embraces a retro and gritty look, with excellent camera work and creative staging. The world Ajo thrives in is rundown and organic, filled with garbage lined alleyways contrasted with shiny, neon-soaked night cityscapes. Director Edwin pulls no punches (figuratively and literally) depicting violence and sex in equal fashion lingering on both. The film toes the line between exploitation and pastiche perfectly never delving too deeply into either one. Some audiences might be put off by the constant tone switching and genre-mixing but it ultimately paints a unique picture.

The fight choreography is fantastic, brutal and grounded yet stylishly depicted. Even if one isn't interested in the romance subplot, there is plenty of action to keep the narrative moving. It feels a tad long and the second act meanders a bit, but it picks up in the third act. In the latter half of the film it incorporates some magical realism that doesn't quite work, but is thematically interesting all the same. Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash toys with the idea of conflating violence with sex in which a couple that has no way of physically satisfying their sexual desire substitutes intercourse with sparring instead. That idea is certainly troubling but this film tries to explore it with dignity and even some moments of humor.

--Michelle Kisner