Be My Avenging Angel
When it comes to Hong Kong crime thrillers, Milkyway stands out as the benchmark to be measured against in recent years, with its stable of producers, writers and directors from Johnnie To to Yau Nai Hoi almost always boasting a stellar ensemble from Lau Ching Wan to Ritchie Jen in frequent collaboration in a series of films that would be the envy of those struggling to come up with something as decent. Without a doubt I am always looking forward to the next film from the production house, and Punished is no different – produced by Johnnie To, directed by Law Wing Cheong and starring Anthony Wong and Ritchie Jen in lead roles.
At first glance Punished may look like a knock off of Pierre Morel's Taken, where a father goes on a rampage taking on the hoodlums who had kidnapped his daughter, and clears away just about every adversary that stands in his way with vicious methods dished out without remorse. But I assure you that while Morel's film was more action oriented, the reverse is true for Punished, which takes a more in depth look at the characters, taking its time to build and set them up for the fall, and a deeper examination into the protective role of fathers. It is this that made Punished shine and allow you to feel a little bit more for the characters and a realization that fathers have it tough
The evergreen Anthony Wong chews up all the scenery each time he comes on screen, in an introduction that brings him to the Salar De Uyuni in Bolivia, before the narrative unfolds in non-linear fashion, with a gruesome discovery coupled with flashbacks to bring the audience up to speed with a series of events leading up to now. Anthony Wong plays Wong Ho Chiu, a man who has worked his way up to riches though not always through legitimate means. Wong has remarried, and has estranged ties with both his son, who harbours the desire to study music instead of medicine as dictated by Dad, while daughter Daisy (Janice Man) is the spoilt brat hook on drugs and constant party. It's an understatement to say that Wong has this strong gravitas throughout in the film as the godfather type who's a business man on the outside, and a not so obvious crook on the inside, and plays the character to pitch perfection, as always.
Ritchie Jen also paired up quite nicely opposite Wong, starring as Choy his trusty executive assistant in a Kato sort of role – the chauffeur, the bodyguard, the go-to man, the ex-convict never needing another word to put his life down for his boss. In fact, Jen's Choy is the right hand muscle man for Wong's character, and for the most parts of the film we follow him as he gets tasked to investigate into Daisy's kidnapping, relying on past contacts and some pure investigative work that made Punished an engaging film to sit through. Those looking for all out action may be disappointed, since this is more detective work than going all out to bash everybody's heads in. Choy also got to deal with similar father issues with his own estranged wife and kid, and this serves as a parallel to his boss' predicament, as well as providing that contrast in parenting styles, and opportunity even when dealing with one's kids, which two methods get adopted.
A subplot involving an underling's determination to obtain a plot of land from villages through all means possible may serve as karma to try and hammer the theme about punishment in, that one need not be directly at the receiving end of a penalty, but that life can dish it out in an indirect fashion, which comes from the torment of Wong himself and the spiral of his relationships downwards. The story when unravelled is extremely simple without the usual unnecessary, meandering twists and turns, relying on seamless editing between time and space to add a little complexity to its presentation., resulting in a tight thriller especially when the vendetta order gets issued.
Perhaps the only kink in the armour was how one of the last perpetrators was dealt with, while I understand that the story had to have some form of redemption factor, it would have packed another punch if a darker tone was adopted instead. But as a tale dealing with fathers and the lengths that they will go in order to protect their kids, Punished still pulled off what it had aimed for - a well acted, gritty crime thriller with charismatic main leads to boot, being an able addition to the Milkyway filmography. Recommended!