Johnny To’s Life Without Principle/ 奪命金/ Life-robbing Gold


Still in shock with my ongoing luck last few months with stuff I'm watching.   My newest surprise is Life without Principle.  I don't care about a lot of Johnny To's stuff, but there's a working formula: gimme a SeanLau, instant like; an AndyLau or a RichieJen in the mix, things can stink up, for me.  He's predictable with a smart brain for commercial success, he's found all the ingredients that work towards a formulaic good acclaimed trademark JohnnyTo and he keeps feeding me the same satisfyingly good stuff, but it irks me always with 'that's all you can do Johnny?'  at the end of his movies.

Have a trailer:

The themesong MV:


I feel the fire in JT to revamp what he's capable of doing this time around.  I'm at the edge of seat, intrigued with a seemingly mundane exchange btn an ahjumma (the terrific So HangShuen) and a private banking manager (DeniseHo) pushing some risky mutual funds, for most of 30 min, pondering every line of their convo in 'oooohh, what's next?!' No guns, no blood(mostly), no hot guys butting heads.  Just terrific, nuanced tete-a-tete acting by both actresses.

Everything and everyone seems a bit haphazardly all over the place and irrelevant. The European debt crisis downturning the market, dwindling down to all walks of life is the only thread running through, even impacting the daily routines of the triad, ridiculous, for a split second, but once settled, it's disconcertingly relevant.  An obscene amount of cash does the dirty lifting of all the usual JT guns, fights, blood and adrenaline rush…and SeanLau hasn't make an appearance yet!  Nor is there any hint he has much to do with ANYONE!

Then BAM!  MyMan sashays into the screen, without a hint of pompous being the leading man, befitting his low in the food chain little gangster with his kitschy manpurse.   Next thing, you realized you're drawn to him, and find him inexplicably likable, maybe because he's the rare loyal and sweet-tempered ruffian in ridiculous knockoffs of Hawaiian shirts.  Yes, there's nth more angelic than a ruffian who is loyal and sweet, in pink flowery shirts….and he hasn't even done anything other than brownnosing the bigbros. 

Plot stays like a steady background hum of non-consequence.  Your mind may wander to where my hubs did: 'has the thought of Sean looking extremely like a harbor seal mashed with a pug crosses your mind, like ever?!'  If you were in any way like me, it's affirmative, but still you'll jab back, 'that's why he can do no harm with charms knowing no bounds'  Then the movie is suddenly comical seeing a harbor seal with a pug face dressing up in sold in MongKok-hawaiian shirts and his ahjumma manpurse.  The movie has moments of witty situation comedy thrown in at this point that'll certainly get a chuckle out of you.

As Sean mentioned in an interview, his (3-legged) Panther is painfully loyal and lives his life doing everything for his brotherhood, but even with all the brownie points, he is still a nobody, the noble idiot of gangster.  Sean created a blinking reflex for Panther to show jittery of having no confidence and self-worth outside of his comfort zone in the triad, out in the brighter RL.  Panther is a simpleton, he attacks any complication with the same beeline approach, that's why he's not more accomplished in the complicated cutthroat gangster world, but that may be a surprising blessing.  Sean mentioned it's that constant ridiculous of life that JT is fascinated with in his movies.  It brings the comic relief along with the ominousness, both in the make-belief world the characters inhabits and can be extrapolated to reality of our own.


THEN, things suddenly gelled, plots and characters sharing no prior connection are woven intricately into a grand scheme of things.  It was like we have spent an hour of the screen time watching every idiosyncratic brushstrokes through a pigeon hole and in the final act of the movie, our screen is lifted and we r shown the entirety, having studied full well how every piece of the puzzle is constructed. And you marveled: nth is sacrificed in terms of the pace, the transitions, there's no pontification of the smart. As Sean said, the chinese characters in the title is 'Robbing. Life. Gold.'  But gold can represent the greed and desire intrinsic to all men.  We all have a certain prize when we'll succumb to our desire, crumbling our principle and ethics.  But on the flip side of the coin, greed can be a driving force to attain impossible goals in life.  At the end of the movie, no character is left unscathed, but never for a moment would we be judgmental, people with the moral spine of steel r brought down by the murky milieu understandably, some unlucky bastards r given their most lucky hand.

Of course I'm jumping and dancing around seeing Sean third time in the short span of months, it's not often, he is not mincing words in the interview roles r harder to come by nowadays, not that he's in the general misconception of 'semi-retirement'.  That's why he's beyond grateful Johnny thought of him as the go-to guy for playing the charming ruffian, to be Panther, a character so similar to many loveable roles earlier in his career.  He said out of the 3 characters we can see him lately in Overheard2, Great Magician, then Life Without Principle (the longest shoot of Johnny, on and off for 3 years) he felt most at ease and confident as Panther. And it shows.  I didn't google all his interviews after rewatching the movie last night.  But the first thing screaming in my head after the movie both times is Sean is bringing on his A++ game here!  *Squeee!!!* It's one thing to do a typecast well, another to bring sth fresh and genuine to a similar character he's played last 20 years.  You can see how difficult a tight rope he's walking to make the character clicks this marvelously, his nobody Panther has to stand out just enough to service the ensemble cast, yet not too much to be a premonition of twists to come, all the while we can't get out eyes off him…..doing nth much.  He definitely inserts his character with so much heart and blood than it's required, yet it's not pompous and showy….like *sorry* Andy will tackle sucha role.  My only gripe in the movie is RichieRen.  Please someone enlighten me why he's sorta a muse to JohnnyTo?!  He's a turnoff in attractiveness and I've never seen him remotely impressive in acting. Here he reduced his co-leading gig to a wallflower of a token cop.  IF his character is played by a sleepwalking TonyLeung (either one of them would do) it can very well be as captivating as Sean's.  Richie should please quit wasting precious space in great movies when he's obscured by Myolie Wu playing his fiancee (who has upped her game and is so surprisingly controlled, nuanced and good when it counts.)  I'm surprised Denise Ho didn't get a HK movie awards nomination for her spot-on performance here.  She's the most relatable character for me.  Phew~  we don't have to endure a KellyChen in a JT no more.  She's a newbie surrounded by crazygood veterans (there's Lo HoiPang!) and she blends in so effortlessly to her own credit. It's outrageous when KateTsui got an award for just toning down her hammy in JT's Eye in the Sky.

So if the upcoming 31st HK movie best actor award is not firmly in Sean's hands, I'll have a HUGE $#@$$&$^@%UGLY rant.  *pleaseeee! sobbbb I dun really wanna hate Andy more~*

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