New for me
I was pretty pleased to have won a free copy of Milky Way Image's latest to reach the US on home video, Punished, thanks to the production company's positive overall reception from Asian and genre film fans. However, Punished turned out to be a poor representative of Hong Kong crime thrillers, being pretty flat on thrills, drama, and even the few action sequences that were present felt pretty trivial, resulting in a film that's surprisingly boring for its kidnapping and retribution premise, despite a short running time.
The kidnapped is Daisy (Janice Man, rebellious daughter to corporate boss Wong Hochiu (Anthony Wong), who we discover dead, recovered by Wong's right hand man, Chor (Richie Ren). As Wong asks Chor to find those responsible for the kidnapping and cement his vengeance, the film exposes the underlying family conflict between Wong and his various family members, as well as the series of events that led up to Daisy's kidnapping and murder.
Unfortunately, the narrative simply lacks direction and conflict. If we know that Daisy is dead from the start, then what is the conflict of the film? Even once Wong assigns Chor to the task of hunting down the killers, since Wong has removed himself from the process, there's little drama for us to concern with him, except for grief. Likewise, Chor doesn't really have any truly compelling element to have us care that he's tracking these guys down, nor is the resulting procedural particularly interesting, being quite matter-of-fact and devoid of any personal conflict, except for a moment near the very end and that one's pretty poorly planted and unraveled as well. Punished is simply very poorly written: its story structure betraying conflict, killing the thrills due to a lack of purposeful objective, and yet because of Wong's general inactivity, the drama that is implied to happen onscreen is simply not compelling.
The visual element of the film holds up a little better than the story, especially at the start, due to picturesque Mirror to the Sky location in Bolivia creating quite the image. The rest of the film is rather unspectacular. Director Law Wing Cheong does manage to string together the scenes and performances in an intelligible manner, but doesn't seem to be able to surpass the flawed writing of the script nor keep a clear eye on the compelling conflict of the various scenes. Even the limited chase and action sequences don't manage to be particularly compelling, in part because the story failed to make the stakes something the audience cares about, but also because they are rather roughly put together. Fortunately, the cast actually makes the film somewhat survivable, mining up some personal conflict for their characters, but without strong story and direction framework, it's not enough to support the overall viewing.
Punished is simply disappointing. While I wasn't expecting something new, as the premise of the film has been done, the script and the direction overall miss creating the necessary drama, conflict and thrills necessary to drive the film, squandering the potential of a thriller film, neither being able to establish real interpersonal drama, nor managing to hold together enough action for more visceral thrills. The film is fortunately spared of any real head-slapping story logic flaws and that simplicity plus the performances might still make this a modest viewing for some, there's simply nothing compelling enough in Punished to commend. 4/10.