We know from the start that the daughter of ruthless business man Mr. Wong (Anthony Wong) is dead. She was kidnapped, and for whatever reason, these kidnappers determined that she didn’t need to live, despite the fact that they received their ransom money. In director Wing-cheong Law’s hard edged revenge thriller ‘Punished’, we spend some quality time with Mr. Wong and learn that if you had to kidnap and murder some guys daughter, his probably wasn’t the one to choose.
Law takes a fractured approach to telling his story, from differing points of view. One of the earlier scenes shows Mr. Wong and his right hand man Chor (Richie Ren) finding the place where the kidnappers buried his daughter Daisy (Janice Man). There’s another guy there, a little beaten and bloodied, one of the kidnappers we assume, and he gets treated by Mr. Wong the way we would expect from one who has just unearthed his lifeless adult daughter from the dirt. Even before this happened, we could see very clearly that Mr. Wong is a fairly heartless son of a bitch in the way he treats his family and his employees.
Going back a bit we see that Daisy is no angel. The girl seems to live for two things, those being cocaine and partying with her fellow worthless adult friends, who are also children of wealth. She’s completely disrespectful to her step mother (Maggie Cheung) who goes out of her way to protect her from her father, who she doesn’t treat much better. She’s spoiled, obstinate, and prone to hissy fits on the rare occasions when she doesn’t get her way. This particular evening of her step mother’s birthday, Daisy was attempting to hit her father up for some money for a trip to Bolivia, but Mr. Wong figured it was just another attempt to get some drug money and soundly rebukes her. Daisy leaves the house in huff, and this is the last time anybody in this house will see her alive.
Initially, Mr. Wong was thinking that Daisy might’ve engineered this kidnapping as an elaborate hoax just to get money, but when he puts Chor on the case, it becomes clear that this is highly unlikely. If I were to ever get rich, unlikely we know, but I would need a guy just like Chor on my team because he’s the ultimate ‘get it done’ guy. This cat takes care of business, whatever that business might be. Need somebody to drive you to the store? Chor is your guy. Need somebody to torture information out of a criminal, and then murder them when he’s done? Chor is your guy.
Obviously the order of the day for Mr. Wong is revenge for the wrong committed, and Chor systematically finds these people, as the movie tells its story from each of their points of view in what their part was in this crime. The worst of these offenders being the brains behind this crime, Mr. Pang (Lei Lam), one of the more hateful characters you will ever have the displeasure to spend some time with. Chances are he’ll get his too.
Since we know rescuing Daisy isn’t part of the equation of this movie, ‘Punished’ plays out as half of a look into a dysfunctional family, and half of a detective procedural while we observe Chor work his magic to find out who committed this crime. Both work well, and both combined make for a movie that was tragically gripping, but both elements had some slight flaws in character presentation, at least in my opinion, that I had to get past.
What makes this movie work are its two stars, Anthony Wong who can play just about any role he is asked to take part of to near perfection, spearheads the family drama with the complex character of Mr. Wong. There’s not a lot to like about Mr. Wong who is rigid, unfeeling, unflinching in his opinions, overbearing towards his children and his wife, and as far as being a businessman there is a very thin line separating him from that of a gangster. The sub-component of the drama is Janice Man’s character of Daisy, and while the actress played her well, her behavior was a little sketchy as far as character development goes. In fact, to let us know that we aren’t getting anything in regards to the reasons behind way she is, we get a quick blurb on how she was shipped off to Los Angeles when her biological mother died and came back a selfish drug addict. Blame it on L.A., I get that… it is a terrible place… I just wouldn’t have minded a little more exposition to make the loss the character slightly more impactful.
On the other side there’s Richie Ren and his character of Chor, portrayed as loyal man saddled with a sketchy violent past that makes it fairly simple for the man to execute some brutal justice without hesitation or second thought. There was a side story regarding his estranged son, stemming from the time he spent in prison that I don’t think added anything in particular to the character, but it was a fine performance nonetheless. The sub-component of this plot point is the brutal Mr. Pang, and if Lei Lam received a memo to make Mr. Pang as heartless and as remorseless as humanly possible, the actor got that memo and took it to heart. My issue would be ‘why’? Why is Mr. Pang so dang mean? Why did Mr. Pang have to kill Daisy when it was completely unnecessary? I thought the filmmakers were going somewhere with the side story about Mr. Wong’s efforts to secure some land, by whatever means from some local villagers, and perhaps Mr. Pang was involved with that somehow, but no, he’s just a real bad dude. He did give a reason, but it was just reason I found somewhat unsatisfying.
Regardless, ‘Punished’ is a fine film. A tough film, a difficult film at some points, though it does try to end with some humanity, maybe disingenuously so depending on how you look it, but Wong and Ren deliver some solid performances to help push this one over the top.