Story of a Discharged Prisoner

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 January, 2011, 12:00am

Before A Better Tomorrow, there was Story of a Discharged Prisoner. John Woo's 1986 film takes a leaf from Patrick Lung Kong's 1967 classic, in which newly released ex-con Lee Cheuk-hung (Patrick Tse Yin, right, centre) finds his attempts at self-rehabilitation relentlessly undermined by forces both high and low.

There's his police detective brother (Wong Wai), who can't forgive his elder sibling for what he perceives as a slight to society and his self-righteous standing in the world; and a mobster (Do Ping) who cajoles and then coerces Lee to return to the underworld that has already failed him once.

Lung is the most socially conscious among his generation of filmmakers. In Story of a Discharged Prisoner, he doesn't go light in pressing his case about the oppression meted out to those living on the margins and trying to find their way back to the social mainstream. Made in 1967 - a time when unrest was sweeping through Hong Kong - Lung's film is actually rather benign, its tragedy coloured by the attempted intervention of a conscientious social worker (Patsy Ka Ling).

As much a damning critique as a call for hope, Story of a Discharged Prisoner is filmmaking at its sharpest and most masterful. Sunday, 7pm; Feb 26, 9.15pm, HK Film Archive.