Perhaps two words that best describe this film would be – simple and efficient. Divided into three stories, Life without Principle examines how the common folks are affected by the financial market. It’s solid work from To and knocking Life Without Principle for not living up to some of his other successes isn’t completely fair. The film, however; doesn’t seem to rule out hard work could bring return, at least Wong, the role of recyclable paper collector, has enough significance. Unfortunately just a while later we see an old working class having fallen under the fade-out group of the society trying to kill himself.
So, what kind of a story do we have here exactly? First in line is bank employee Teresa (Denise Ho), who is under pressure from the team manager to meet her sales targets for a new complex financial product before the New Year. 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. Mr. To offers a nicely caliberated mix of intellectual dread and visceral shock in this suspenseful thriller that will keep you enthralled till the last frames where the credits roll. Most of these characters cross paths at various points, but To isn’t obnoxious about hammering home the connections.
Nominated for his third Golden Lion at Venice, Johnnie To fashions a film that is his own yet it does not feel as accomplished as some of his best work in the last decade. I believe this is the result of an elongated first act that is uninspiring at best, with the second act starting about nearly halfway into the film, and really, that’s when the film actually begins to get more interesting. Also, I don’t really get the point of having nonlinear timeline sequences. Perhaps he’s better off with triad-focused movies? Either way, many questions came up to my mind while watching this film – would I have done this or that; is money a problem solver or the root of all evil? All these have come together too fast that Richie Ren is unable to react. He acts in such a slow-reflex way that has conveyed his thoughts of questioning “what’s going on with my fate?” He rather believes it’s all a coincidence. By taking away one’s fate, he loses control over his life and all that left to him is coincidence. He has to pray for this for the rest of his life.
In closing, this movie didn’t exactly live up to both it’s English and Chinese title. There is nary a shootout in sight, nor a bullet fired for that matter, and yet you can’t help but to shake your head at what’s put on screen as a third person witnessing how things develop. I applaud To for trying something different, but being put in a world of misplacement, this time it looks more like an accident than it’s under fate, leading to an even more absurd ending where the world is totally unpredictable that one can’t reason it. Mankind relies on accident and luck to settle down, and that is a laughable grief.