Offering a new twist on the family revenge subgenre, director Wing-cheong Law’s Hong Kong crime thriller Punished is now available on DVD in North America. Produced by Hong Kong action icon Johnnie To, Punished is slightly less adrenaline-charged than its ad campaign suggests, but despite a few minor flaws, it manages to be a solid and compelling character study, an intriguing thriller, and a culturally apropos indictment of Chinese parenting.
Wong Ho-chiu (played by genre veteran Anthony Wong Chau-sang) is one of the richest corporate moguls in China, and when his teenage daughter, Daisy, is found murdered after a badly mishandled kidnapping, Wong’s first reaction is to seek vengeance against her killers by hiring an assassin. As the instigators of the kidnapping are gradually, brutally picked off, and the story behind Daisy’s murder becomes more clear, Wong begins to doubt his own motivations, becoming increasingly, uncomfortably aware of the role his own handling of the kidnapping may have played in Daisy’s death.
The subject of family is ubiquitous in action and crime thrillers, but Punished deliberately undermines the conventions of the subgenre, making it more than just a black and white exercise in vigilante justice. Wong is an irritable, blustering tyrant obsessed with money and power, and Daisy is a shrill, spoiled bitch on wheels with a raging coke addiction. Their relationship isn’t just tortured or distanced, it’s completely broken, and implicitly, that’s pretty much Wong’s own fault. His quest to punish Daisy’s killers is less about a desire for righteous vengeance than about Wong’s need to come to terms with his own role in the tragedy – his inability to protect her, and his general failure as a parent.
The film runs into a few snags – it employs a split timeline, and the abrupt chronological shifts are sometimes momentarily disorienting – but mostly it succeeds. The ending is ambitious, but somewhat unsatisfyingly diffuse, and some viewers may be disappointed that the action and torture sequences are so widely spaced and de-emphasized, although they can’t help but pale next to Wong’s emotional self-torment anyway. Special features on the disc are mostly perfunctory, with some behind the scenes interviews and a stills gallery, and not a lot else.
Punished is a quieter, darker film than its premise suggests, more of a twisted elegy than a straight-up homicidal thriller. The strength of its premise, however, makes it a compelling, though flawed entry in the Hong Kong crime subgenre, lacking the operatic punch of some of its forebears, but making up for it with sincere characterization and thematic depth.
CraveOnline Review (Film): 8/10
CraveOnline Review (DVD): 5.5/10