Review: Life Without Principle
Starring: Lau Ching-wan, Richie Jen Hsien-chi, Denise Ho Wan-sze, Myolie Wu Hang-yee
Director: Johnnie To Kei-fung
Category: IIB (Cantonese)
A screenplay, like life itself, is more fulfilling when crafted according to certain principles. In the case of Life Without Principle, this would require the mosaics of its multiple narratives to coalesce into a riveting tapestry of Hong Kong's inglorious money-grubbing minions. But despite the clever title's promise and intriguing initial reel, director Johnnie To Kei-fung falls short of what might have been a searing look at our materialistic society in the throes of the current financial crisis.
A cop, a bank clerk, and a hoodlum are the main characters in three parallel plots whose interrelationships become apparent midway through the film. Had the story strands been handled more deftly, a viewer might have had fun figuring out what would cause such diverse personages as Inspector Cheung (Richie Jen Hsien-chi), fund pusher Teresa (Denise Ho Wan-sze, above) and triad lackey Panther (Lau Ching-wan) to cross paths.
They seemingly have nothing in common during the early passages, with Cheung investigating a murder and Teresa berated by her acerbic boss for not selling her quota of the bank's dubious high-yield ventures.
Panther and his underworld chums inject a semi-comic note so dissimilar to what has transpired in the picture's first part that the gangsters seem parachuted in from a neighbouring set.
That the three stories do eventually interconnect is a tribute to the concept behind Life, a concept unfulfilled by a meandering structure and a narrative bogged down by the extraneous and a superfluous subplot concerning the inspector's orphaned niece. Loose ends are then too neatly tied up in a contrived finish.
It is elements like those that dilute what might have been a masterwork, for To's stylistic touch is evident throughout.
Deserving a more memorable context is a sequence involving an irate gang boss, a gaudy crystal-beaded stake, and a roadblock. There are also less showy moments that speak volumes about Hong Kong, such as the juxtaposition of the dismal divided flat that is the murder scene with the 'dream home' aspired to by Cheung's wife, Connie (Myolie Wu Hang-yee), a tiny unit whose hefty HK$8 million price makes it all but unaffordable to even well-salaried professionals - a scenario that in all its ramifications condemns many an SAR resident to a fate not unlike the movie's title.
Life Without Principle opens today