Judge David Johnson lives a life without principle...and principals.
Money is the root of all evil.
I think the disc case synopsis writer means "the love of money." But that's just a small misfire on what is yet another poorly marketed DVD display. Actually, it's not so much "poor" as it is "sadly effective and more than a little dishonest." This is a scourge besieging many DVD releases these days, portraying the content as action-packed, when the feature housed within the bombastic packaging is far from it.
It's a shame, because often the film suffers from false expectations, when the promise of thrills and gunfire is ultimately not delivered upon. That's the case with Life Without Principle; a badass shoot'em-up, if you were to go by what the disc jacket is selling. There's some guy pointing a gun at someone off-screen, as a fireball erupts from behind, and a guy getting hit in the head with a mess of cash against the backdrop of a violent car accident.
Johnnie To's film is pretty good but it is not an action movie. So purge that from your brainpan immediately. What Life Without Principle happens to be is an intriguing, innovatively-plotted examination of how three different individuals are adversely affected by the tanking financial market. We meet a banker under pressure to bring in more business, browbeating an elderly woman who doesn't know better than to pour her life savings into questionable investments; a hard-working cop who finds himself faced with a suicidal geriatric man newly impoverished; and a gangster thug who feels the fiscal pinch and struggles to apply his skills elsewhere.
These plotlines intersect through creative means and pay off nicely in their own respective ways. My favorite is the gangster arc, bolstered by some outstanding work from Lau Ching Wan, showing that even those who operate outside the law and proper business ethics can take a bath when the markets crater. This inevitable takes him down a path of violence and tragedy, giving his tale the most emotional pop (though the banker's saga isn't light on the heartbreak).
Truly these are lives that become without principle, thanks to the external forces. The characters' downward spirals—and subsequent attempts at redemption and salvation—make for compelling and contemporary theater.
The DVD: a clean 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Dolby 5.1 Surround (Cantonese), and no extras.
Not Guilty. Just don't expect an action-drenched excursion and you should be good to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
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