Directed by: Law Wing Cheong
Written by: Chi Keung Fung
Starring: Anthony Wong, Richie Jen, Janice Man, Maggie Cheung Ho Yee
Punished is another entry in the revenge genre that continues in its ongoing popularity. A kidnapping occurs with the film non-linearly unraveling the mystery of who is involved. Although there are a few depictions of brutal violence, this film concerns itself mainly with the psychological toll on the perpetrator of revenge. An interesting change is that the physical revenge is performed by a hired-hand of the victim’s father.
Some people expecting an action film will likely find the character scenes rather bland, but I thought they were interesting in the context of the mystery of revealing who was involved in the kidnapping. The violence is not stylized at all. There are rough and tumble fights rather than wire-work martial arts. And the gunfights are straight ahead “keep shooting until you get shot” matches. No slow motion or doves here.
A real estate tycoon Wong Ho-Chiu (Anthony Wong) lives with his rebellious daughter Daisy (Janice Man), dutiful son, and compassionate wife (Maggie Cheung), who is the mother-in-law of the children. He has two bodyguards. He browbeats a meek man in charge of a real-estate deal currently in trouble. When his daughter is kidnapped, he enlists one of his bodyguards Chor (Richie Jen), who has a previous criminal background, to find the perpetrators.
What is interesting about the introduction of all these characters is that the audience can immediately suspect any one of them to be the mastermind of the kidnapping. Even the benign characters can be suspected of having a motive against the tycoon. There are various natural character pair interactions that keep you guessing which characters are being honest or deceptive. Chor is also dealing with his own disinterested son from a failed marriage.
Depending on how you feel about the tycoon by the end of the film, you might have a problem with what happens near the ending. He did not show compassion towards the common people who were affected by his business deals, but was he really ruthless with people? Sympathies for the tycoon will no doubt vary. Did the tycoon deserve having to deal with this kidnapping ordeal? One aspect that is not explored in the tycoon’s mental deterioration is paranoia although he does initially suspect his daughter arranged her own kidnapping. Some people will probably have a problem reconciling the brutal killer and tolerant father aspects of Chor. I think it acknowledges the idea that your nice neighbour next door could be a killer.
Anthony Wong has a long and much rewarded career in Hong Kong cinema. I really enjoyed his performance in this film. (On a whim, I decided to check out the English dubbing on the DVD. As expected, the choice of voice actor for Anthony Wong was horrible.) It’s interesting that his real-life son plays his son in this film.
Although having directed seven films (one of them being 2 Become 1, a comedy/drama in 2007 for which he was nominated as Best New Director at the Hong Kong Film Awards), director Law Wing Cheong is probably best known for being an assistant director on popular Johnnie To films like Election and Exiled. I thought he did a nice job keeping the tension with subtle camera framing movements.
One thing I like about foreign films is that they often show you cultural details that are different than what you are familiar with. In this film, there is an outdoor racing track for large remote-controlled cars. This was an interesting setting to use for an interaction between Chor and his son.
The press release for the DVD of this film from Indomina Releasing contains a factual error with regards to the actress Maggie Cheung Ho Yee in this film. The press release confuses her with Maggie Cheung of Hero and In the Mood for Love fame. Also I don’t think the plot synopsis is correct with regards to several details, but to point them out here would be providing spoilers.
Don’t expect an action-packed revenge film like Taken with Liam Neeson. This is a more contemplative take on the effects of taking revenge, with circumstances affecting decisions and determining outcomes. The title “Punished” can refer to both the external physical violence and internal mental disturbance that come with revenge. — Reed