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Life Without Principle (2011)
"Dyut meng gam" (original title)

6.9
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Ratings: 6.9/10 from 1,292 users  
Reviews: 9 user | 41 critic

Three people - a criminal, a bank officer and a cop - end up in a catastrophic situation in the midst of a global economical crisis and are forced to betray any morals and principles to solve their financial problems.

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Cast

Credited cast:
...
Panther
...
Mr. Sung
Richie Ren ...
Inspector Cheung
Wing-cheong Law ...
Wing
Felix Wong ...
Sum
Hoi-Pang Lo ...
Yuen
Siu-Fai Cheung ...
Wah
Siu-Kei Lee ...
Brother Four
Singh Hartihan Bitto ...
Bank security guard
Vincent Sze
Chi Hung Ng ...
Brother B
Denise Ho ...
Teresa
Stephanie Che ...
Jackie
J.J. Jia ...
Ms Ho
...
Car park security guard
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Three people - a criminal, a bank officer and a cop - end up in a catastrophic situation in the midst of a global economical crisis and are forced to betray any morals and principles to solve their financial problems.

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Crime | Drama

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Release Date:

20 October 2011 (Hong Kong)  »

Also Known As:

Death of a Hostage  »

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2.35 : 1
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Hong Kong's submission to the 85th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. See more »

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A Nutshell Review: Life Without Principle
23 October 2011 | by (Singapore) – See all my reviews

Written by Cheung Ka Kit, Yau Nai Hoi and Yip Tin Shing, Life Without Principle aims itself squarely at financial markets and the corrupt ecosystem at play, and spends a significant first arc in combining often heard and experienced elements into the story. Denise Ho plays Teresa, a banking relationship officer measured by her sales figures, which means the more she pushes for the sales of riskier products, the better her commission and profitability to the bank. We understand her pressure and predicament, but one's values of caution gets thrown out the window when one's job is on the line, made worse by a pushy manager. Late nights and cold calls (getting the treatment any of us will usually dish out) become the norm, and having two key customers in Lo Hoi Pang's shady money-lender, an extremely savvy investor but of course, and in So Hang Shuen's heartland elderly woman who has little knowledge of finance other than to put her money in the bank, provided that opportunity for broad contrast in customers who know how to work the bank, and those who the bank knows how to work.

You'll even come to the belief that banks everywhere provides meagre, negligible savings interest rate only to entice you to its complicated, though sexier financial instruments that scream high returns, but comes with the fine print the thickness of a phone directory and print that only an ant could read. But that won't translate well on film, so a similar element in taped conversations and going through the motion, which many of us are susceptible to, get played out instead. You can't help but to shake your head at what's put on screen as a third person witnessing how things develop, although how many of us can say we won't get tempted when actually put in the same hot seat with the promise of money being made thrown at us, that will come with a signature and a trust that the bank, a business entity that exists to make profits from anyone, anything and anywhere, has your interest at heart?

The other major arc is equally brilliant with To retaining the gangster element in his stories, with Lau Ching Wan starring as a non too bright gangster muscle, loyal to a fault and always there for his sworn brothers. His honest nature makes him the unofficial trusted treasurer of this boss, in a time where even gangsters have problems with recruiting and retaining men, who will walk off at the first signs of trouble. So much for loyalty these days, with the attitudes of the strawberry generation being felt even to the underworld.

Fans of Lau Ching Wan will undoubtedly see some shades of a popular character he played for in one of the blockbuster television series of its day involving the financial markets, especially in a build up to an ironic twist, but he also added some performing layers to his character and somehow his simpleton endears. His role here serves to highlight how even gangster have to change with the times of economic uncertainty, where knives and guns get traded off for computers and market savvy, making money through the push of a button rather than the heydays of fighting for territory and seeking one's riches through the traditional revenue pipelines of prostitution, gambling and drugs. It took quite a while to get to where it was supposed to, but as the adage goes it's never about the destination but the journey, where Lau mesmerizes with his performance in a one man tour de force, and a slew of Milkyway regulars, with the conspicuously absence of Lam Suet, surely made this arc the best of the lot, from Eddie Cheung, Felix Wong, Law Wing Cheong, and a whole lot of others springing up to lend support.

And the last arc may serve as a filler since it's the most spread out of the three, but no less satisfying, and I thought it was easily identifiable here since it speaks directly at our pursuit of economic aspiration and the incredible long hours at work we put. Ritchie Jen stars Cheung the cop whose wife Connie (Myolie Wu) desires that swanky new condominium that they can barely afford its mortgage. Living within or beyond one's means is a decision the couple has to take, although in Cheung's case, he seems to be more at home spending time at work, rather than to address his deteriorating personal life, until an incident, as always, puts things back into proper perspective.

While the narrative is presented in a non-linear fashion, the narrative is incredibly easy to follow, with each significant moment setting the pace for those that follow, or to provide the audience with the sense of "if only he/she knew", which in fact is exactly what our attitudes are in life when we sit down to analyze seemingly disparate issues, and how close they each come toward one another than we could have had imagined. Here the Greek economic crisis, something so macro and relatively far away, shows how closely inter-connected we all are in today's global village, where concerns and decisions made thousands of miles away can impact the individual man in profound ways.

Life Without Principle is a carefully crafted film that can work anywhere, but I'm glad Johnnie To got to it first, and provided one thought-provoking and gripping film that is wonderfully contemporary. Certainly one of the best films of the year, and is highly recommended. I'll probably dip into the DVD as well for its original Cantonese language track when the time comes, to view this just as it was intended.


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