DIRECTOR Franklin Schaffner does not flinch from showing every horror of the French penal system in Papillon (Pearl, 9.30 pm), the authentically brutal film about the escape from Devil's Island of notorious felon Henri 'Papillon' Charriere (Steve McQueen). The theme is not crime and punishment, but man's inhumanity to man. Schaffner pushes our noses in ordure from the start, and leaves them there. Papillon was a costly film, with McQueen's salary a reported US$2 million and Hoffman's - he plays the big-time swindler who is marked for death because other criminals know he still has money stashed away - more than US$1 million. The overall price tag for this excellent prison saga exceeded $13 million, but it gleaned $13 million in the US alone. You may remember it being shown as recently as 1990 at what was the Palace Theatre in Causeway Bay. The story - adapted from Charriere's autobiography by Dalton Trumbo, himself a cult figure with a cameo in the film as a penal colony commandant - begins in the dingy streets of Marseille in the 1930s, with French soldiers escorting a group of prisoners to the docks for their journey to the colonies. Among them are McQueen, a convicted murderer, and Hoffman. Once in Cayenne, McQueen thinks only about escape. He attacks a guard, gets away and is captured. He does the same, and is once again captured, spending most of his time in solitary confinement, where he staves off starvation, disease and madness. The final escape attempt seems like one too many and turns out to be just as harrowing as life on the inside. There is nothing chirpy about Papillon. You will enjoy it, in the much the same way you might enjoy necessary surgery. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (World, 9.30 pm) has Asian interest, with Ingrid Bergman as the English servant girl who does great things in China as a missionary. Everyone is sensationally miscast, but somehow it works - even with Wales standing in for China. THERE are two stories in Inside Story (World, 8 pm), the current affairs programme edited and hosted by Susan Yu. The first looks at the mysterious deaths of young recruits in Taiwan's military. The military says the recruits had inflicted injuries upon themselves. The parents and the public says it's a cover up. The second report, by Richard Elliott, looks at Macau, once the world's biggest cliche ('sleepy enclave') and now the world's biggest building site. The new airport opens next month but another massive development project, Cotai City, is mired in politics because China has not yet given its blessing. FILMS on Cable Movie Channel: Highlander III - The Sorcerer (7 am and 1 pm). No Sean Connery in this one. It's the usual mixture of bloodthirsty battles and immortals crossing swords with one another. It's generally noisy, muddled and violent. Ikiru (10.30 am). One of Akira Kurosawa's lesser masterpieces, from 1952, but still a poignant and potent comment on the nature of Japanese society. Takashi Shimura is Kanji Watanabe, a clerk in a government office who discovers he has cancer and, at most, only a year to live. Up to this point he has led a highly structured life, with two children who offer him no comfort. The time has come, he decides, to do something to make him feel his life has not been a complete waste. The Seven Samurai (11 pm). Akira Kurosawa's superbly strange, vivid and violent medieval adventure which later served as the basis for the western The Magnificent Seven and the science-fiction film Battle Beyond The Stars. It tells the story of a group of samurai who are hired by villagers to defend their property against an annual raid by bandits. Those viewers who labour under the misapprehension that foreign films are boring will be impressed by this film's brutal action sequences, such as the raid on the town, the hand-to-hand combat in the pouring rain and the epic horseback battles. The action is never shown strictly for its own sake, however. All the characters are so richly drawn that we grieve when they are killed.