May 17, 2009 / 2:56 PM / 10 years ago

Johnny Hallyday seeks Vengeance in Cannes

CANNES, France (Reuters) - Veteran French rocker Johnny Hallyday stars as a father out for blood in “Vengeance,” a stylish thriller from Hong Kong director Johnnie To showing at the Cannes film festival.

Cast member Johnny Hallyday poses during a photocall for the film "Vengeance" by director Johnnie To at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2009. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Hallyday, who began his career in the 1960s as a local version of Elvis Presley, has been one of France’s most recognizable faces in a career spanning five decades but is relatively unknown outside the French-speaking world.

In To’s film he plays a French chef with a mysterious past who goes to Macau after his daughter and her family are gunned down there. Swearing revenge, he joins forces with a band of local gunmen to hunt down her attackers.

Hallyday’s presence in a role originally intended for famous French actor Alain Delon underlined the inspiration To said he had drawn from the atmospheric thrillers of French directors such as Jean-Pierre Melville.

“The characters in the movies don’t have much dialogue and they are really cool, romantic action heroes and of course we have a French actor in the lead,” To told a press conference after the film’s screening at Cannes.

“For me as a Hong Kong film director, I always hope I can find new ideas and new ways to bring films to the audience.”

Hallyday’s deep blue eyes and virtually immobile expression match the stylized atmosphere of To’s film, which is played out in a neon-lit world of rainy streets, taciturn gangsters and highly choreographed gun fights.

The 65-year-old singer, whose other cinema appearances include Jean-Luc Godard’s 1985 film “Detective,” praised To’s direction which he said mixed precise requirements for constructing scenes with rapid sketching of the story and dialogue.

Actor and director both shrugged off the problems of working together despite To’s relative lack of English and Hallyday’s complete unfamiliarity with China. The style of the movie meant that dialogue and characterization were kept to a minimum.

“I’m a believer in pure cinema,” To said. “I believe an image can tell a whole story.”

A much less stylized study in violence, Filipino director Brillante Mendoza’s “Kinatay” also premiered on Sunday. The film, a grim exploration of corruption and guilt, centers around the kidnap and brutal rape of a prostitute called Madonna.

Central character Peping, played by Coco Martin, accepts a well-paid jobin order to raise money for his young family, but he quickly regrets his fateful decision.

Both “Vengeance” and “Kinatay” are in the main competition.

Additional reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Farah Master

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