We Are One Film Festival: Day Seven
Online Screen Editor, Jim Norman, looks at Wrath of Silence and the revenge thriller in his coverage of day seven of the We Are One Film Festival
The revenge thriller is a genre that often goes overlooked. No thanks to Liam Neeson saturating the industry with his barrage of kidnapped children movies, these films can frequently come across as no more than a violent display of paternal, yet potently toxic, masculinity. Yet every so often a film comes along capable of returning to the roots of the genre. 2017’s Wrath of Silence, which appears in day seven of the festival programme, is one such film.
Drawing more on the precedent set by Oldboy than Taken, Chinese auteur Yukun Xin has created a revenge thriller full of gore, violence and, most importantly, mystery. When his son suddenly disappears, Baomin, a mute miner and farmer, refuses to rest until he has found him. Tangled in a web of mining scandals and corruption, Baomin’s search for his son sees him enter a world of urban politics the likes of which his rural mind has never experienced.
Wrath’s concern with a world outside of its action sequences is refreshing to say the least
By creating a lead without the ability to speak, director Xin sets a huge narrative challenge that the plot is forced to overcome. Writing himself into this corner however, Xin acts with a calculated efficiency similar to the genre’s typical protagonists and fights his way out of entrapment. Rather than seeing the silence which envelops the picture as a problem, the film embraces it; filling each moment of clarity with an overwhelming sense of dread as we watch the protagonist relate his mindset through facial expression alone. This is of course credit to Yang Song’s acting ability, and the entire cast provides a similarly stripped-back performance where the movement of an eye or the twitch of a mouth is the equivalent to screaming from the mountain tops.
Similar to the divides explored in Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite, the mystery of Wrath of Silence becomes intimately entwined with class. Aside from the contrasting settings of the miner’s barren landscape and their bosses’ artificially lit office blocks, the film paints a devastating picture of its cultural hierarchy. Unflinching scenes of people eating meat, the livelihood on which farmers such as Baomin rely, repeat throughout the film. Whilst the rich eat pink cuts, freshly sliced by an automatic machine, the working classes eat grey bone and gristle, torn apart by axe and fingers in filthy kitchens.
It is such attention to detail that keeps Wrath of Silence an engaging watch. Where many revenge thrillers would rely on braking bones and crashing cars to keep their narratives moving, Wrath’s concern with a world outside of its action sequences is refreshing to say the least.
This is not to say that the film holds back on its fight sequences. There are plenty of them. And whilst the on-impact editing results in us rarely seeing a punch meet its target, the balance between fighting and mystery means that this never becomes distracting.
Rather than a gore fest to be immediately forgotten, Wrath of Silence’s patience and respect of its audience’s intelligence allows it to grow in impact after watching. In its final act the film draws together all of its loose ends but doesn’t pull them too tight, leaving space for this devastating narrative to breathe after the credits roll.