Life Without Principle is a very different movie by Johnnie To. Namely, there are long stretches that showcase nothing but dialogue. Bankers, thugs, and cops talking about money. This is in stark contrast to the lengthy, wordless, and stylized tracking shots that the Hong Kong director is known for. Yes, there is the double-crossing, deception, and stealing that one might expect from the world’s best crime filmmaker, but it’s all done according to the rules of finance—and not the underworld.
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…)