Posted on 3/30/13 04:37 PM
Johnnie To, the Godfather of Hong Kong, is the doughtiest and arguably the only Hong Kong film auteur still safeguards the pedigree of the untainted spirit from its halcyon days, after the detrimental ramifications of the censorship battlefield with mainland Chinese policy, which put Hong Kong film industry into a retrograde quagmire, only from Johnnie To's prolific output one (especially for those who has witnessed or influenced by Hong Kong films' golden era, e.g. 1980-1997) can retrieve some salve from the bleak situation (underpins by the poignant slogan "Hong Kong Film is Dead!).
LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE has its clear-sighted objective dispassionateness, adopts 3 discrete narratives from a cop, a bank clerk and a Triad member (with tentative overlays) all converge with a parking lot homicide case, and intriguingly delineates the current situation in Hong Kong society under the background of Greece's ecumenic catastrophe, which reflects the anxiety and levity in normal citizens' mind set. A dowdy retired housewife falls prey to the callous investment chicanery, a vivid mirror image of millions of ourselves, bank system embezzles people's hard-earned savings, benefits from the (almost inclusive) profit while shunts all the risky liabilities to each account holder, a deep-rooted capitalism scourge on the modern society. Veteran actress Hang Shuen So conducts a visceral impersonation using her meager appearance as the cipher victim. Denise Ho (an out-of-the-closet lesbian singer and new actress) garnishes the office-confined monotony with her restrained tolerance and discontentment as the conscientious clerk, a subdued archetypal in the white-collar hierarchy.
Versatile actor Ching Wan Lau is the Triad minion, pious to his boss and brothers, although time changes, the Triad business are at the low ebb now, but his foolhardiness resists with a perverse tenderness, in a time when brotherhood can be easily teased as homoerotic metonymy, his loyalty is far-fetched but resonates with the gangster nostalgia which permeates the genre's best moments (To's ELECTION 2005, 8/10 and TRIAD ELECTION 2006, 8/10 are among the swan songs), Ching Wan Lau experiments a methodological mimicry with blinking-laden vivacity in his character's naive and befuddled persistence.
The third thread germinates from Richie Ran's cop, which ruefully is the weakest link and casts a shadow to the development of the character's below-the-surface tension, the elevator incident with explosive serves the only chilly thrill of the film which feels insatiable for To's generic followers.
The ending mercifully caters for a interim reprieve to the 3 protagonists, but To seems to be as unconvincing as the audiences, the fluke (gamble) is not an elixir, the stopgap is rickety, everyone is still caught in the spiderweb and the exit sign seems too far to reach.