Film Review – Life Without Principle

Life Without Principle

Johnnie To

2011

Set during the economic crisis of 2010, people from different walks of life find themselves struggling to cope through the financially turbulent time. The options to which they find themselves could lie heavily on their futures and their consciences.

Before I watched the film I didn’t know anything about it. I had only seen the poster and knew the actors and director. From that I thought I would be watching a modern Hong Kong action film in the vein of Mad Detective or Election, the kind of film that Johnny To had done so many times before. I was excited. I was disappointed. The film spends easily the first 35 minutes in a bank, talking about assets, investments, and stocks. As soon as the little old lady comes in looking to invest you know where this is going, It’s as subtle as a hammer to the head. I was more interested in trying to figure out the exchange rate from Hong Kong dollar to Great British pound so I could understand what kind of sums they were talking about. I wouldn’t say I was engrossed.

After the boredom of the bank, we get into the story of Panther, a low level gangster with money troubles, easily the most entertaining part of the film. His character is loyal,dumb and quite watchable. The film tries to employ a flashback, multi-story narrative but it’s clumsily done and the separate components don’t fit well together. It’s clearly trying to show these characters (including a police officer and his girlfriend trying to get the money together to buy an apartment) as archetypes for the troubles everyone was facing during that difficult time. The problem is that a metaphor is all well and good but if it’s not entertaining, who cares? The funniest part is when Panther’s best friend has been stabbed in the lung with an ornamental flower and instead of doing all he can to get him to the hospital, he leaves him bleeding in the car, flower protruding from his chest to go and invest in interest stocks! The film was nominated for 8 awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards, winning 2, and has been selected as Hong Kong’s entry to the Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Oscars. All I can say is that I yearn for the days of Chungking Express, The Killer, and Drunken Master 2.

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