Hong Kong-action fans will find a measure of reward if insufficient excitement in the Buddhist-flavored thriller “Punished.” Directed by Law Wing-cheong, this well-constructed pic carries Johnnie To’s imprimatur as producer and stars a tough-looking Anthony Wong as a hard-nosed property developer belligerently dealing with the demands of his daughter’s kidnappers. A keystone offering at Hong Kong’s fest in March, this respectable effort will generate respectable B.O. on local commercial release in mid-April, and fare well internationally with the usual genre-fest suspects, before a solid life in ancillary.
Employing an elaborate flashback/flash-forward structure, the pic first shows business tycoon Wong Ho-chiu (Anthony Wong) in the middle of a Bolivian salt flat contemplating the beautiful surroundings, before leaping backward to Wong’s discovery that his darling daughter Daisy (Janice Man) is dead. Narrative then rolls yet further back to reveal that the innocent daughter was a nasty, spendthrift coke addict who hated her stepmother and fought tooth and nail with her authoritarian father.
Demonstrating the same level of uncaring brutality whether he’s dealing with his children or conservation-minded protesters trying to stop his latest property development, Wong is a temper-prone tyrant, and grueling company as a protag. Feared by family and enemies alike, Wong’s only trusted companion is his faithful bodyguard, Yao (Richie Jen), who acts as Wong’s eyes and ears and is eager to take action when Daisy is kidnapped. The story is relatively straightforward, but its clever structure gets plenty of tense mileage out of the scenario, despite the fact the outcome is apparent from the outset.
Law’s solid track record as an editor (“PTU,” “Running on Karma”) and previous experience as a director (“Running Out of Time 2”) enable him to serve up the pic’s sudden turns and maximize surprise from the hidden pockets of the script’s origami-like structure. But while a shoot-’em-up in a scaffolding warehouse reps a highlight, most action sequences nevertheless feel more like padding than elements growing organically out of the plot.
Jen seems too subdued as the loyal bodyguard, but Wong cranks his patented intensity up to 11 and tops it off with a raging burn. Man’s wild child is just the right side of a teenage cartoon, and Maggie Cheung Ho-yee gives a believable and endearing perf as the understanding wife and super-tolerant stepmom.
Tech credits meet Hong Kong industry standards.