Academy’s rules for best foreign language film submissions can be real
head-scratchers. Just by giving the decision-making
power to the countries of original they virtual guaranteed no dissident cinema
will ever be nominated. This year, Hong
Kong’s official submission was actually in local theaters before last year’s
submission, but the both met the official requirements. Regardless, Hong Kong has put forward a
number of excellent films in recent years, without getting any love from
Oscar. Following Johnnie To’s super-cool
Exiled, Alex Law’s exceptional Echoes of the Rainbow, and Ann Hui’s understated
but powerful A Simple Life, Hong Kong
has officially submitted To’s ripped-from-the-headlines Life Without Principle (trailer here), which is
already available on DVD.
is about to cause a lot of trouble for hard working Hong Kong residents on both
sides of the law. As the socialist
basket case threatens to drag down the world economy, it will leave a number of
people in precarious positions.
Inspector Cheung Jin-fong would not know anything about that. Like usual, he is working a case, but his
wife is about to enter into a dubious mortgage so they can purchase the
apartment of her dreams.
transaction will bring her to the office of Teresa, who is currently ranking dead
last amongst her fellow boiler room colleagues.
Aware her job is on the line, she sells a dodgy BRIC fund to an elderly
client, who really should have known better.
Teresa would really prefer to get her hands on some of the money loan
shark Yuen has in his account, but he is strictly a cash man.
it turns out, others have had this idea too.
When underworld investment banker Lung loses the wrong people’s money
during the ensuing financial panic, he and his low level Triad crony Panther
plot to rob Yuen after he makes a withdrawal.
Again, they are not the only ones with that idea.
Principle skips about
quite a bit, flashing forward and backward in time, while crisscrossing between
its various characters. Yet, To and his
regular editor David Richardson maintain narrative clarity throughout. Still, it is a bit of a slow starter, with
much of the first act devoted to making the financial sector look like venal
sharks. Frankly, if Teresa’s dear old sucker
is not suspicious after they make her watch several cautionary videos and sign
off on waiver after waiver, than you wonder how she navigates a big bad city
when the gangsterism intersects with the financial shenanigans, the picture
really begins to click. Here To is back
on familiar turf. Lau Ching-wan, Philip
Keung, and Lo Hoi-pang ham it up with gusto as the in-over-his-head Panther,
the sleazy Lung, and the even sleazier Yuen, respectively. J.J. Jia also has some memorable moments as
Lung’s femme fatale colleague, Ms. Ho. Yet,
though perfectly cast as the taciturn copper, Richie Jen (another To/Milky Way
team regular) is oddly short-changed on screen time throughout Principle.
is an entertaining film, but it does not pack the
same punch as Simple Life or Echoes.
On the other hand, its financial tsk-tsking might appeal more to Academy
voters. At least To’s international reputation
ought to earn it an attentive audience when it screens for the Academy’s
foreign language committee. Currently
streaming on Netflix, Life Without
Principle is a strong closer, definitely recommended for fans of HK film,
but just not as satisfying as To’s Exiled
Labels: 85th Academy Awards Foreign Language Submissions, Hong Kong Cinema, Johnnie To