Thursday, February 9, 2012

In short: Punished (2011)

Law Wing-Cheong's thriller drama about a gangster-ish businessman's (Anthony Wong in a pleasantly subtle mood) vengeance on the kidnappers and killers of his daughter by the hand of his ex-triad member bodyguard (Richie Jen, The Artist Formerly Known As Richie Ren) is one of those films I wish I'd have enjoyed more than I actually did.

There's nothing particularly wrong with the movie. In fact, Law's direction is slick and rather tight in its minimalist commercial way (and does prefer the blue contemporary movie standard palette to the piss-coloured one, which may be ugly and very unoriginal but at least isn't an attack on my eyes), Wong's and Ren's performances are pretty great, and I do respect what Law is trying to do inside the parameters of the vengeance movie: namely putting the redemption of the vengeance-seeking anti-hero at a point in the narrative where he actually hasn't killed all of his enemies but does in fact need to show empathy instead of the more typical self-pity after the fact. Alas, it's also at that point and the narrative beats surrounding it where my main problem with Punished lies. The violence that comes before doesn't pack enough of a punch to actually make the viewer feel much about it at all, neither loathing nor excitement nor the typical-for-the-genre combination of both, making it difficult to share the emotional development of Wong's character. Wong's physical distance to the actual acts of violence perpetrated in his name - with the exception of the first one, which isn't a planned murder - doesn't help much here; even though he is factually more than a bystander, Wong never feels like an actual participant in the acts that are supposed to change him. It's well and good to give Ren his own character arc concerning the reasons for letting himself do what he does for Wong, but in the end, his character only ever does what he's told, never making his own decisions about his acts.

It does not improve this aspect of the movie that the redemptive ending is way too pat. Obviously, the two men with a history with problems with their own children will have to decide if they can execute a mother in front of her child or not, making redemption a pretty damn easy thing to achieve for them. I know, it's probably supposed to be karma, etc., and so on, and so forth, but mostly, it feels like rather lazy writing that tries to have things the easy way.

It's a bit of a shame really, because the acting performances would have deserved a stronger, more daring, script.


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