Produced by Hong Kong favourite Johnnie To, tough revenge drama “Punished” is the latest from the popular Milkyway Image studio, which as usual means an emphasis on character and writing along with action and thrills. The film was directed by To regular Law Wing Cheong, who recently helmed “PTU” spinoff “Tactical Unit: Comrades in Arms” and Miriam Yeung breast cancer comedy “2 Become 1”, and who also appeared in the likes of “Vengeance” and “Sparrow”. Headlining the film are another of his usual collaborators in Anthony Wong and Richie Jen, with support from Janice Man (“Frozen”), Maggie Cheung Ho Yee (“Men Suddenly in Love”), singer Candy Lo (“Split Second Murders”), Jun Kung (“Rebellion”), Charlie Cho (“Bet to Basic”), and Wong’s own real life teenage son Wong Yat Yat.
The film follows Anthony Wong as property developer tycoon Wong Ho Chiu, whose daughter Daisy (Janice Man) causes him no end of trouble with her drug taking, hell raising ways. Unsurprisingly, when he receives a message saying that she has been kidnapped, he dismisses it as a scheme to get money out of him, and takes a hard-nosed approach to dealing with the criminals. However, the unfortunate girl turns up dead shortly afterwards, and he enlists the help of his bodyguard and former tough guy Yiu Kai Chor (Richie Jen) to hunt down and kill all those responsible.
Although “Punished” may sound like a particularly straight forward revenge drama, Law Wing Cheong, along with frequent Milkyway screenwriters Fung Chih Chiang, Lam Fung, does make an effort to offer something a little different. This is mainly apparent in the fractured narrative, which shifts around considerably in time, with Daisy’s death being shown at the start, and with the film then proceeding to move backwards and forwards as it unravels the reasons behind her demise and the identities of the killers. This approach works quite well, primarily since it helps avoid over-emphasis on what would have been a fairly obvious series of plot points and twists, neatly sidestepping accusations of a lack of originality. In addition to this, the circular structure serves to underline the film’s attempts at a karmic theme, focusing on the effects the revenge crusade has on Wong as it pushes him closer to the edge and through the motions of becoming a monster himself. Although in this respect the film isn’t nearly as brutal and immoral as Kim Ji Woon’s “I Saw the Devil” or as crazy and abstract as Wong Ching Po’s “Revenge: A Love Story”, it does have a certain amount of depth, enough so to push it from being mere exploitation.
As he showed with his “Tactical Unit” outing, Law is a perfectly capable director, and he keeps things tight despite some of the repetition which inevitably comes with the narrative technique. The film is generally fast paced and has some well judged action scenes inserted along the way to keep things exciting, even if its actual scenes of vengeance feel a little second fiddle to its other concerns. This isn’t too much of a problem, since Law also works in some reasonably shocking violence, including some rough scenes of Jen getting brutal with a sledgehammer, and a handful of tense and bloody bullet battles. The tough edge gives the film a fitting air of grim realism, and by not going too over the top in search of thrills it remains modestly grounded and effective through to the end.
In many ways though, the film’s greatest strength is its performances, with Anthony Wong in particular on superb form, carrying its emotional and dramatic weight on his shoulders. His tycoon makes for a finely conflicted protagonist, with an interesting and compelling character arc which takes him from being ruthless and unlikeable, to reaching a painful point of humanity and acceptance. Richie Jen is also impressive, and although his bodyguard would have benefitted from having a little more detail provided regarding his chequered past, his efforts at taking responsibility for his own family problems make for a complementary subplot. The rest of the cast are somewhat saddled with deliberately unpleasant characters, most notably Janice Man as the relentlessly horrible Daisy, though whilst on one hand this does undermine the film’s emotional impact, it plays to the theme of Wong’s understandably intolerant father having to come to terms with his own role in her waywardness.
Ultimately, it’s this attention to character and willingness to take a less obvious dramatic path that marks “Punished” as a more interesting revenge drama than most. Though it may lack some of the balletic action and style of Johnnie To’s own output, it makes for a satisfyingly thoughtful thriller that as much as anything else provides a real showcase for the considerable talents of Anthony Wong.
Wing-cheong Law (director) / Chi Keung Fung (screenplay)
CAST: Anthony Wong Chau-Sang … Wong Ho-chiu
Richie Ren … Chor
Janice Man … Daisy
Maggie Cheung Ho Yee … Mrs. Wong
Candy Lo … May
Lei Lam … Pang