‘Drive’s’ Nicolas Winding Refn on working in Bangkok with Ryan Gosling

Nicolas Winding Refn reunites with "Drive" star Ryan Gosling for "Only God Forgives."
Nicolas Winding Refn reunites with “Drive” star Ryan Gosling for “Only God Forgives.”

For his follow-up to the critically acclaimed “Drive,” writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn grabbed star Ryan Gosling and headed to Bangkok. But the Thai capital offered more than just a vibrant and mysterious setting for the new film, “Only God Forgives.” It also offered the fanatic Winding Refn plenty of opportunities to shop.

What was the motivation for setting this story in Thailand?
I found it interesting to go to a world that is very removed from my own, and Asia is a very exotic place in terms of the spiritualness and the appeal of magic and the supernatural — and the acceptance that it walks hand-in-hand, no questions asked. And it’s a great place to set what I would call a fairy tale within that. So that was the overall approach. I also collect toys, and Bangkok is a great place to buy toys. Then I could indulge myself at the same time.

How much did you indulge yourself while you were there?
A lot. [Laughs] I like these Manga Z things, that whole Japanese robot culture. I had some [model kits] as well. The only problem with building them yourself is that I get that f—ing headache from the glue. I like the ones where you have to glue them and really paint them, but there’s the glue part.

It has a sort of outsider view of Bangkok, focusing on foreigners living there.
I liked the idea of strangers in a strange land, those that are always alien to their surroundings. But it also heightens the realities, and I find that pretty exciting.

Ryan’s character doesn’t do so well in a fight, he doesn’t do so well with the family business, and doesn’t do so well with keeping tabs on his brother. Is there anything that he is good at?
Maybe that’s what he’s trying to figure out. I think he’s functioning with the sins of his mother.

You’re clearly not a fan of handheld camera work. 
There’s an interesting thing about pace, which is that most mass entertainment is extremely fast, and so being slow actually makes everything faster because our minds begin to work faster. The anticipation builds up stronger. Our heartbeats slow down. In the beginning, I’m sure it can be frustrating for some people because we’re so used to speed in our lives. But we must not forget that the slower it is, the more of a trip it becomes. It’s just like silence is the loudest sound because it forces your ear to pick up on so many more sounds to compensate for the silence — because we find silence uncomfortable.
Pain? No thank you.
Nicolas Winding Refn has proven he’s a fan of showcasing brutality in his films — particularly when it comes to beating up on one of his favorite collaborators, Ryan Gosling. In their latest work together, “Only God Forgives,” Gosling’s Thai boxing enthusiast challenges a rival to a fight and — spoiler alert — doesn’t fare very well.

In real life, though, Winding Refn isn’t that big a fan of pain. In fact, he couldn’t even bring himself to finish his first tattoos. “I have [tattoos on] my shoulder blades, skulls. From many years ago — 20, 16 years ago,” he says. “They never finished them because I thought it was too painful. I never went back and got the rest done. It hurts like f—ing hell.”


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