Communication of Anti-Violence and Anti-Vengeance Themes in Revenge Films


Narrative film is potentially a powerful means to reflect, reinforce or alter attitudes within society. In Asia, popular martial arts films frequently depict acts of violent vengeance as arising from a sense of duty, honour, or justice. As for the West, Simkin (2006) points out that while many revenge films of the 1970s and of the post-September-11 era portray vengeance as heroic acts of justice, earlier revenge tragedy narratives of Elizabethan theatre tended to provide a more complex and critical treatment of vengeance. Given the prevalent use of violence to achieve catharsis in films of this genre, it is of interest to enquire whether and how themes of anti-violence and anti-vengeance can successfully be communicated in such films. This presentation will examine various narrative and filmic techniques that have been used in support of, or against, the notion of vengeance, conflict and violence as means of obtaining justice. Examples will be drawn from classic films, as well as from Firebird, a science-fiction revenge film written and directed by the presenter. Techniques to be discussed include: (1) establishing the justification for vengeance, (2) “othering” of the enemy vs. sympathetic portrayal of the enemy, (3) presence or non-presence of the enemy’s perspective, (4) exhilarating vs. horrific depictions of death and violence, (5) revenger-protagonist as hero/anti-hero or as villain, (6) portraying psychological consequences for the revenger, (7) misdirected acts of vengeance against an innocent, and (8) heroic or triumphant ending vs. tragic ending.

Author Information
Alan Nguyen, Melbourne Polytechnic, Australia

Paper Information
Conference: FilmAsia2015
Stream: Film Criticism and Theory

This paper is part of the FilmAsia2015 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon