Life Without Principle
Year of release: 2011
Director: Johnnie To
Producer: Johnnie To
Writers: Milkyway Creative Team, Jeff Cheung, Au Kin-Yee, Ben Wong, Yau Nai-Hoi, Yip Tin-Shing
Cinematography: To Hung-Mo, Cheung Siu-Keung
Editing: David Richardson, Allen Leung
Music: Yue Wei
Stars: Lau Ching-Wan, Richie Jen, Denise Ho, Myolie Wu, Lo Hoi-Pang, So Hang-Suen, Patrick Keung, Eddie Cheung, Felix Wong, Ben Wong, Terence Yin
Rated IIB for violence and language
Movie Review Index
Johnnie To's Life Without Principle features the earmarks of what one would expect from one of his films. The main characters are cops and gangsters in a story revolving around millions of stolen dollars that is punctuated by dark humor and bursts of violence. However, To has reeled in some of his tropes that have become his trademarks over the years, instead concentrating on a storytelling style that focuses more on Hong Kong culture than heroic bloodshed.
Fans looking for To's usual fare may come off of a viewing of Life Without Principle feeling disappointed. However, this particular reviewer appreciated the switchup in To's film-making. The whole Hong Kong gangster genre has become quite tired over the years, and it's good to see To stretching his wings and working in other areas. Well, sure, there have been the comedy/dramas To has produced with his sometimes partner Wai Ka-Fai, but social dramas are a new frontier for To. Fortunately, To succeeds here, delivering one of the better pictures to come out of Hong Kong and China the past couple of years.
Life Without Principle isn't a perfect piece of cinema, especially when it comes to the story and script. Even with five screenwriters and the input of the Milkyway Creative Team, the characters and their motivations feel incomplete, with their resolutions coming off as too convenient and pat. The film also doesn't really go far enough in exploring its' subject matter, instead depending on the audience's anticipated base hatred and disgust with the current banking and brokerage systems.
However, Life Without Principle succeeds much more often than it fails. In particular, the actors deliver extremely good performances, especially Denise Ho, who plays a beleaguered bank executive who ends up being the nexus of the film's action. And, as could be expected from Milkyway regular Lau Ching-Wan, he again turns in a solid take on a unique character. Overall, Life Without Principle shows that Johnnie To is still a director at the top of his game and that there's still at least a little bit of life beating in the heart of Hong Kong cinema.