Punished and Wu Xia take place in vastly different eras and have similarly opposite budgets, but are both smart movies about revenge that came out last month on Region III DVDs.
Produced by Hong Kong’s longstanding king of crime movies Johnnie To and directed by Milkyway Image regular Law Wing-Cheong, Punished stars Anthony Wong and Richie Ren as an unsavory, ruthless businessman and his loyal assistant with a criminal past. After Wong’s daughter gets kidnapped and killed, he asks the enigmatic Ren to apply his underworld experience to track down the perpetrators and make them pay. And how. Naturally, Wong discovers that vengeance is a two-way street and his business, his family life, and his physical and mental health all suffer unexpected, intense consequences. Punished isn’t the first time that such a story has unfolded–and it isn’t the most stylish, sophisticated, or shocking variation, either–but the two main characters are unusually strong and well-played by the actors. The conspicuous lack of cops in the face of crazy violence is interesting as well, making the story about as pure a morality play as can be. And although the movie’s tone is brutal, it manages to beautiful when you least expect it. The most affective, otherworldly moment isn’t powered by violent special effects or a plot twist but family bonds. (Although, it does indeed look amazing…)
Wu Xia is the latest effort from Hong Kong’s Peter Chan, who has been systematically and successfully taking on genres from horror (Three: Going Home) to musicals (Perhaps Love) to historic epics (Warlords) since directing the equally heartbreaking and brilliant Comrades, Almost a Love Story. Wu Xia is a tribute to the One-Armed Swordsman movies from the ‘70s—and even features the eponymous ass-kicker himself, Jimmy Wang Yu—but there is no nostalgic slumming or throwback quality. In fact, it starts off as a CSI-style mystery complete with animated nerves and guts (with Takeshi Kaneshiro as the square detective) before mutating into a classic kung-fu saga (featuring Donnie Yen as the costar and primary suspect with a sordid past). Yes, themes of law vs. justice, duty vs. loyalty, and humanity vs. animals are examined in an intellectually sound and emotionally satisfying manner but that would mean nothing if the fight scenes weren’t jaw-dropping awesome. With a hefty-and-well-spent budget, incredible visual flair, top-shelf actors (including the reemergence of Lust Caution’s Tang Wei), a very cool story, and–perhaps most important–Hong Kong-style energy and creativity that is missing from just about every other cinematic partnership with China, this is a movie that literally has it all.