Johnny Hallyday (1943-2017), the ‘French Elvis’ wasn’t really noted as an actor in the English speaking world, but he made a fair few movies, working with directors including Jean Luc Godard, Claude Lelouch and Guillaume Canet. To my mind he made two great pictures – L’homme du train (2002) directed by the great Patrice Leconte and Vengeance (2009), helmed by Johnnie To.
Both films have Hallyday playing ageing current/former criminals, but are very different.
L’homme du train is a ruminative, elegiac piece where Hallyday, as bank robber Milan, samples another life in a sleepy French town when he stays with meek retired school teacher Manesquier, played by the magnificent Jean Rochefort.
The picture was pointlessly remade in 2011 with Donald Sutherland and U2’s Larry Mullen Jr. in the Rochefort and Hallyday roles respectively.
Vengeance (2009) is a different kettle of fish, with Hallyday as Francis Costello, a French chef and former assassin who seeks retribution when his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are attacked by a gang of Triads.
Although somewhat generic, it’s a well-made movie, with some exciting action sequences, mordant humour and themes cribbed from the crime thrillers of Jean-Pierre Melville, with Hallyday’s name a homage to Alain Delon’s character Jeff Costello in Le Samouraï (1967).
You may recognise co-stars Anthony Wong (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) and Simon Yam (Election).