Hong Kong, 2011, colour, 2.35:1, 94 mins.
Director: Luo Yongchang 罗永昌.
Well-crafted kidnap mystery with an especially fine performance by Huang Qiusheng [Anthony Wong].
Hong Kong, the present day. The body of Wang Shanjia (Wen Yongshan), the daughter of ruthless property developer Wang Haochao (Huang Qiusheng), is found suffocated in a shallow grave by Wang Haochao’s trusted bodyguard-driver Yao Qichu (Ren Xianqi). Wang Shanjia, who was into partying and drugs, had a dysfunctional relationship with her father, hated her step-mother (Zhang Keyi), and had stormed out of the family home after her father discovered she was planning to secretly fly to Bolivia. Soon after that, Wang Haochao had received a ransom demand for HK$50 million. Suspecting that someone within his own organisation could be involved and that Wang Shanjia could have arranged her own kidnap to extort money from him, Wang Haochao had decided not to call in the police; but during the handover the money had been grabbed and Wang Shanjia had not been returned. Back in the present, Yao Qichu takes part of the blame for Wang Shanjia’s kidnapping and resigns from his job, spending time with Xiaoqiang, his young son from a failed marriage. In fact, he is on a handsomely paid mission by Wang Haochao to hunt down the perpetrators of Wang Shanjia’s murder and take retribution.
Punished 报应 is a professionally crafted, engaging murder drama from the Milkyway Image team of producer Du Qifeng 杜琪峰 [Johnnie To] that doesn’t linger long in the memory afterwards but is lifted from 6/10 to 7/10 by a fine performance from grizzly veteran Huang Qiusheng 黄秋生 [Anthony Wong] as the kidnapped girl’s father Wang and by a self-effacingly quiet one by Taiwan actor-singer Ren Xianqi 任贤齐 [Richie Ren] as his loyal bodyguard Yao. Director Luo Yongchang 罗永昌 – who’s risen through the ranks at Milkyway as an a.d., editor and associate director, as well as solo director (Running out of Time 2 暗战2, 2001), since the company’s beginnings in the mid-1990s – brings an unfussy, tight style to the drama and keeps the pot of suspicion nicely bubbling as to whom was actually behind the kidnapping.
On reflection, the script is not as water-tight as it seems during viewing, and raises some questions that aren’t satisfactorily answered: why, for instance, was the kidnapper so enraged against Wang as to kill his daughter, and what is the dramatic point of the running subplot about a forced property grab? But what elevates the film above simply a routine crime drama is Huang’s characterisation of the father, a ruthless property developer and family martinet who seems to have lost any capacity for human warmth or trust but now seeks some kind of spiritual retribution (the meaning of the Chinese title). Huang’s bleak-eyed, twitchy playing is some of the best he’s done in a genre movie, without becoming exaggerated, and is nicely balanced by some surprisingly dark underplaying by Ren as his ex-con-turned-bodyguard with personal problems of his own. Also notable is the sympathetic playing by Hong Kong actress Zhang Keyi 张可颐 of Wang’s supportive second wife and, on the technical side, a sweeping, melancholic score that binds the whole movie together.
Presented by Media Asia Films (HK). Produced by Milkway Image (HK).
Script: Feng Zhiqiang, Lin Feng. Photography: Gao Zhaolin. Editing: David Richardson, Peng Zhengxi [Curran Pang]. Music: Guy Zerafa, Dave Klotz. Art direction: Chen Jinhe [Raymond Chan]. Costumes: Zeng Baiquan. Sound: Guo Zhiwen, Martin Chappell. Action: Huang Weiliang [Jack Wong]. Car stunts: Li Zhaoguang. Visual effects: Luo Weihao (Different Digital Design).
Cast: Huang Qiusheng [Anthony Wong] (Wang Haochao), Ren Xianqi [Richie Ren] (Yao Qichu, his bodyguard), Wen Yongshan [Janice Man] (Wang Shanjia/Daisy, his daughter), Zhang Keyi (his second wife), Lu Qiaoyin (Amy, his secretary), Lin Li (Peng, chief kidnapper), Gong Shuoliang (Peng’s accomplice), Cao Chali (Zhao/TK, Wang Haochao’s manager), Lin Jinggang (Peng’s accomplice) Huang Ruiming (Jun, Wang Haochao’s son), Jiang Meiyi (Wang Haochao’s late wife), Gao Jinwen, Ou Zefeng, Xu Zhongxin, Liang Zhuoman, Ruan Min’an, Li Jinglian, Zhang Yangnan, Ye Jingwen, Huang Huahe, Lin Jianting, Zhao Bihan, Xia Zexin, Tao Hongwu, Zhao Zhicheng, Luo Jingting, Chen Gong, Du Shisong.
Premiere: Hong Kong Film Festival (Gala Premieres), 4 Apr 2011.
Release: Hong Kong, 5 May 2011.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 13 May 2011.)