Life Without Principal
Hong Kong director Johnnie To has been
responsible for some of the regionís most accomplished and well-regarded
cinematic fare of late, including the award-winning crime drama
Election (2005), Exiled (2006) and the supremely dark revenge
thriller Vengeance (2009).
His latest work to hit local shores
courtesy of Madman is Life Without Principal, which was the Hong
Kong entry for the
Best Foreign Language Oscar
85th Academy Awards.
The film also picked up another handful of gongs at the Golden Horse and
Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Director and Best Screenplay.
Itís another engrossing and stylishly
crafted drama from a director at the height of his storytelling
prowess. The manner in which To introduces his main characters is
artful, almost languid, and as the movie proceeds the tensions escalates
- we watch with baited breath, uncertain of exactly what fate will
befall our leads but knowing that something dramatic is just
around the corner.
The subject matter this time around is the
Greek government debt crisis, and more specifically its economic impact
on three central characters - a bank teller (Denise Ho), a police
officerís wife (Myolie Wu) and a Triad member (the inimitable Lau Ching
Wan). The filmís shifting narrative and interlocking, non-linear method
of presentation add an additional layer of complexity to an outwardly
straightforward story, which transcends the genre of heist or gangster
flick and ultimately becomes a meditation on the corrupting and
all-encompassing influence of money, as well as the lengths to which
people will go in times of desperation.
Buoyed by some truly impeccable
performances, Life Without Principal brings to mind James Joyceís
justification of his famously impenetrable final novel Finneganís
Wake; at this point, the Irish author is supposed to have asserted,
I can do anything I want with the English language. In much the same
way Life Without Principal is the work of a supremely confident
artist, in this case a filmmaker who can do anything he wants in the
medium of film. The results are spectacular and, rest assured, much
more entertaining than that pretentious fizzer Finneganís Wake -
this is riveting stuff, and another winning entry into the oeuvre of the
Hong Kong cult master.
Audio & Video
The anamorphic 2.35 widescreen transfer is
crisp and vibrant throughout, with nary a hint oí grain. Both Cantonese
and Mandarin 5.1 surround soundtrack options are available, with English
subs of course.