PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 May, 2011, 12:00am


Starring: Anthony Wong Chau-sang, Richie Jen Hsien-chi, Janice Man Wing-san, Maggie Cheung Ho-yee
Director: Law Wing-cheong
Category: IIB (Cantonese)

Neither victims nor culprits are immune from punishment in this dark thriller, whose unsympathetic denizens are dominated by the most reviled of Hong Kong villains: a property magnate.

What further distinguishes Punished is that the tycoon, Wong Ho-chiu (Anthony Wong), despite being the target of the plot's central crime, is culpable in so many other arenas that it is impossible to muster compassion for his plight.

Nor does director Law Wing-cheong want you to do so. For nearly the first half of the film's 93 minutes, the mood created by Law and the non-linear screenplay by Fung Chih-chiang and Lam Fung is quite compelling. The pre-title sequence alone contains the image of Wong in the bright sunshine by a Bolivian salt lake intercut with dark shots of Hong Kong nocturnal violence and the discovery of a corpse.

For the next half an hour, we are given a jigsaw-puzzle-like exploration of the tribulations facing a group of not very nice people. Wong, a ruthless billionaire, in a particularly timely note, is engaged in a campaign to evict an entire New Territories village of its inhabitants. Daughter Daisy (Janice Man) is a spoiled, drug-addicted brat who physically assaults her dad's assistant (Candy Lo Hau-yam) and verbally abuses her disconcertingly sweet stepmother (Maggie Cheung, above, with Anthony Wong). Wong's bodyguard (Richie Jen) would come closest to resembling a righteous type, if it were not for the fact the ex-convict is the muscle propping up a scoundrel and more than willing to do his bidding.

The movie's moral ambiguity is nearly as compelling as the murder mystery until its midpoint, when something more conventional begins to develop. The rough edges of a few characters are unconvincingly softened, and too convenient clues emerge that prove pivotal in solving the whodunnit. The ending is an action-packed let-down, injecting generic sentimentality into proceedings that had hitherto benefited by their exclusion.

Whatever its lapses, the production provides a mesmerising showcase for Anthony Wong, one of Hong Kong's most intense performers, and it is a delight to watch him subtly convey the inner conflicts facing a tyrant who finds his enormous wealth and bluster of limited use when truly put to the test.

Punished opens today