A Blu-ray With Principle

Life Without Principle, the new film from Hong Kong genre specialist Johnnie To, received its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last fall. Shortly thereafter, U.S. distribution rights were picked up by the Indomina Group, whose website, as of today, states that the film’s release date is still “TBA.” It seems likely that Principle will not receive a theatrical release in the U.S. at all but may be dumped straight to DVD at some unforeseen point in the future. Fortunately, Mega Star, the film’s Hong Kong distributor, already released a superb region-free Blu-ray last month that will almost certainly be making my list of the ten best home video releases of 2012. Not only is it an impeccable HD transfer of a film shot on 35mm, which is beginning to feel more and more like an anomaly, the movie itself is one of Johnnie To’s best and most interesting – one that eschews the gangster movie conventions for which the director is best known in favor of a crime drama/social satire that examines the current global economic crisis from a variety of interesting angles.

The film’s dazzling first act revolves around Teresa (cute Canto-pop sensation Denise Ho), a bank employee who is under relentless pressure from her superiors to sell more investments. After making futile cold calls to potential investors from work, Teresa attempts to sell a high-risk investment to an elderly female walk-in customer who has a “low-risk profile.” Teresa is required by law to audio-tape their conversation, wherein she will explain the risks involved to the customer who is, in turn, supposed to respond to every statement with “I understand completely.” This sequence, which lasts a full ten minutes and involves Teresa and the customer going through the same spiel three times until they get it right, is a remarkable set piece of absurdist comedy. Although Teresa wears an obligatory fake smile and essentially tries to upsell the old woman into gambling on her life savings, To refuses to make her the villain of the piece. Instead we are just as likely to empathize with the employee as we are with the customer because To has been careful to illustrate how all of his characters are furiously pedaling on the same capitalist treadmill.

Who then is to blame for this clusterfuck of greed and corruption? Is it Teresa’s superiors at the bank? To and his team of screenwriters show how the bank makes money off of customer interest, even while those customers lose money by making bad investments through the same bank in an unstable market. (One of the film’s best gags involves a bank customer who is also a loan shark offering Teresa a loan with a lower interest rate than what her own employers will provide.) But To also shows how Hong Kong’s economy is affected by the markets of distant European countries. Hong Kong’s denizens listen to the radio, helpless, as the latest news of the Greek debt crisis and the response by the rest of the European Union causes the local market to rise and fall. To suggests that, in the world of high finance, the principle of the “banality of evil” applies: the buck never stops because everyone rationalizes that their actions are merely a reaction to someone or something else.

In a scenario of remarkable intelligence and complexity, Teresa’s story is but one of several plot strands twining around that of the aformentioned loan shark, a man who is robbed of 5 million dollars after withdrawing it from her bank near the film’s beginning. The other principal characters in Principle are Panther (Lau Ching-Wan), a genial, small-time triad member whose lowly station is directly attributable to his adherence to outmoded codes of honor and loyalty, and Inspector Cheung (Richie Ren), a good-hearted cop whose wife is constantly pestering him to purchase an expensive new condo. Over the course of two days, the various plot strands are drawn ever closer together, which leads to a deftly intercut triple climax that will alter the destinies of each character forever.

Life Without Principle is full of the filmmaking smarts that have made Johnnie To so beloved to cinephiles in the west. The bank scenes feature elegant camera movements, especially the repeated motif of slowly pushing in on a character, which, combined with the gleaming surfaces and monochromatic red/blue color scheme of the set design, suggest a world where everything is perfectly polished and mechanized and nothing is out of place. But To then contrasts these scenes with exterior shots of the urban jungle outside, where teeming hordes of money-mad people struggle to survive. In one inspired scene, we see Panther racing through the streets (that nickname is no lie), looking to borrow money from a former Triad brother who has since turned to making money by recycling cardboard boxes. To also repeatedly punctuates the film with shots of the Hong Kong skyline, where storm clouds constantly seem to be gathering, putting viewers in the mind of the figurative economic storm from which no one is unaffected.

Finally, although he doesn’t appear in the film until after the 33-minute mark, it is Lau Ching-Wan who imbues Life Without Principle with its charming, funky, offbeat soul. Lau, working with Johnnie To for a whopping 18th time (in what is arguably the greatest director/star pairing of contemporary movies), shows off some new colors in an already diverse palate in his creation of the lovable loser Panther. Sporting Hawaiian shirts under 1970s-style blazers, Panther is a frenetic busybody, shoulders permanently hunched, rapidly blinking, always scurrying around and trying to hustle money to help out a “sworn brother.” Panther attempts to cut costs for his boss’ banquet by forcing more chairs together per table at a restaurant and only ordering “healthy” vegetarian meals (because meat is more expensive), which humorously underlines the film’s central, egalitarian notion that everyone, even movie gangsters, are feeling the crunch in these tough economic times.

If Johnnie To is a “crime film specialist” then Life Without Principle is in some ways a typical Johnnie To movie. It’s certainly a film about crime, just probably not in the way that a lot of his fans might expect. And while nothing could be more Johnnie To than that (the man did after all once make a movie titled Expect the Unexpected), perhaps what surprises and impresses the most about this film is the shocking sophistication of its sociological insights. For sheer prescience, the only movie I’ve seen in recent years that can even compare is Godard’s Film Socialisme, another egalitarian film that extends sympathy to all of its characters. “Expect the unexpected” might as well be the motto for To’s entire career, for no other director of the past quarter century has done so much to reinvigorate genre filmmaking by so consistently pushing genre conventions in as many surprising, intelligent and highly personal directions.

The image quality of Mega Star’s Life Without Principle Blu-ray is flawless. The colors are nicely saturated and “pop” in the way that only 35mm color can. Even the occasional white speckles have a quaint charm, reminding us that what we are looking at is the transfer of a film that once ran vertically through a motion picture camera rather than a mere digital-to-digital transfer of pulsating electronic pixels. The soundtrack is likewise robust with a nice separation between the Cantonese dialogue track, the punchy sound effects and a catchy, vocal-heavy musical score (although I regrettably couldn’t take full advantage of the 7.1 sound mix with my 5.1 setup). In conclusion, I was fairly blown away by this Blu-ray, which instantly placed Life Without Principle as one of my top five favorite Johnnie To films (along with The Mission, PTU, Mad Detective and Election). I also feel it would serve as a perfect introduction to his oeuvre for anyone who has heard or read about him but not yet seen his films.

Mega Star’s Blu-ray of Life Without Principle can be purchased from the fine folks at yesasia.com here:


Life Without Principle Rating: 9.9


About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

35 responses to “A Blu-ray With Principle

  • Ben Herzberger

    This sounds fascinating.

    • michaelgloversmith

      I hope you get to see it, Ben. Johnnie To is the KING of the modern day crime film. If you can’t track it down, you might want to look up the other films that round out my “top 5” in the last paragraph of this review.

  • John

    Man, can’t wait to see this.
    I can’t remember is WCC does Blu-Ray swaps, because I have a great Albert Brooks movie I could lend.

  • david

    I’m going to watch it tonight,will be back when I finished it.

  • Life Without Principle Reviews | Taste of Cinema

    […] huge fan of the diretor,Michael mentioned it again in my comments how awesome it is and wrote a fantastic review on his own blog.So I could not wait to find out the truth and watched it last night,not crazy about […]

    • michaelgloversmith

      The biggest problem with Hollywood today is that they’re making fewer and fewer movies that are costing more and more money. They should be making more and more movies that cost less and less money.

      CTRL-F to Find It came in the mail yesterday. I’m reading it with passion.

  • Bherz

    Thank you sir!

  • Weekly Recap ( Mar 15 – Mar 21 ) : A Collection of Great Reviews and Lists | Taste of Cinema

    […] “The movie itself is one of Johnnie To’s best and most interesting – one that eschews the gangster movie conventions for which the director is best known in favor of a crime drama/social satire that examines the current global economic crisis from a variety of interesting angles.” – Michael@White City Cinema comments on Life Without Principle […]

  • An Intriguing Trend in Contemporary Film Distribution « White City Cinema

    […] chance to see it on the big screen. By contrast, keep in mind that Johnnie To’s masterpiece Life Without Principle, a film ostensibly more accessible than A Simple Life, was picked up by a U.S. distributor last […]

  • Top 10 Home Video Releases of 2012 « White City Cinema

    […] 28. Life Without Principle (To, Mega Star Blu-ray) Full review here. […]

  • Top 10 Films of 2012 | White City Cinema

    […] Johnnie To’s 2011 masterpiece turned up in Chicago for a couple of screenings at the Siskel Center in November but this was many, many months after I had already seen (and reviewed) Media Asia’s superb Hong Kong Blu-ray release. Oh well, even though I would have preferred to see this 35mm-shot film for the first time projected on the big screen, such are the tricky machinations of contemporary distribution patterns. The movie itself, one of To’s best, depicts three interlocking crime stories about money-mad characters (the most prominent of whom is a lovable, low-level triad portrayed by the brilliant Lau Ching-Wan) scrambling to get ahead in the current global financial crisis. Short on action but long on delightful cat-and-mouse style maneuverings, this absurdist dramedy succeeds as both nimble, expertly clever storytelling (a set piece involving a banker selling a high-risk investment to an elderly customer is worthy of Becket) and as a prescient sociological analysis. Someone should make Andrew Dominik, the talented director of the pretentious Killing Me Softly, watch this. Full review here. […]

  • My Blog is Three-Years-Old | White City Cinema

    […] Turkey, 2011) – 9.8 The Strange Case of Angelica (de Oliveira, Portugal, 2010) – 9.9 Life Without Principle (To, Hong Kong, 2011) – 9.9 Before Midnight (Linklater, USA, 2013) – […]

  • Top 100 Films of the Decade, pt. 4 (#25 – #1): A Contest | White City Cinema

    […] Johnnie To’s 2011 masterpiece, one of the very best movies in his long and prolific filmography, depicts three interlocking crime stories about money-mad characters (the most prominent of whom is a lovable, low-level triad portrayed by the brilliant Lau Ching-Wan) scrambling to get ahead in the current global financial crisis. Short on action but long on delightful cat-and-mouse style maneuverings, this absurdist dramedy succeeds as both nimble, expertly clever storytelling (a set piece involving a young banker selling a high-risk investment to an elderly customer is worthy of Beckett) and as a prescient sociological analysis. In an ideal world, anyone wanting to make a crime thriller in Hollywood would be forced to watch this. Full review here. […]

  • brad


    Life Without Principle is asking the viewer if money can really make a person happy. I believe having money at most can give a human being a false sense of security. I am relatively certain that money cannot buy happiness. Wealth is a relative concept. We will always want more things. Capitalistic society makes us grave more and more stuff. Human beings are insecure creatures. We want a secure future. I hate to break the news; we’ll never have a secure future as long as we live in a capitalistic society. The reason is that the world has always been in a constant state of flux as society, especially as we become more and more dependent upon things rather than people. The most anyone of us can hope to achieve during our lifetime is to love and be loved by other human beings. It really doesn’t matter whether you drive a Mercedes or a Mazda, live in a big house or a small apartment, or eat filet mignon or a Mc Donald’s hamburger, unless you to be a vegetarian. Therefore, in my opinion life without love, is a life without principle!
    Getting down to brass tacks, do you really think it matters if Teresa boosts her sale sales of financial products? If she does, her boss will just increase the amount of investment products she’ll have to sell. And more importantly, deep down in her heart, we know Teresa never really likes selling risky investments to widows and orphans. Most importantly, I believe that is the reason why she stole five million Hong Kong dollars. Do we deep down in our hearts believe there is such a thing as job security? Are we foolish enough to think Panther and Lung are smart enough to compete with all of the hot shots at Goldman-Sachs, considering that they are nothing more than a couple of dysfunctional loan sharks? Don’t forget, Panther and Lung could not even hold on to five million dollars once they got their hands on it. And, do you really think it a smart move for Connie and Inspector Cheung to even consider buying a bay front condo with no money down in the midst of a worldwide financial crisis? Ladies and gentleman, I hate to burst your financial bubble, but we’ve all been brainwashed! Don’t believe everything you’ve been told. There are more important things in life than accumulating material wealth!

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks for being the first to take the plunge, Brad. I agree with you that “life without love is a life without happiness.” On the other hand, one could argue that Teresa’s “boosting her sales” DOES matter because she could eventually be fired if she’s consistently on the bottom. Anyone who’s ever been in sales knows what that pressure is like!

    • Adrian

      Life Without Principle

      As individuals, we often believe that we aren’t capable of certain actions. Our beliefs tell us that there is no way that we wouldn’t cross certain boundaries. History has shown that when man is faced with chaos or turmoil, we quickly let go of our principles and beliefs. It is hard for people to except the monsters that live in every one of us. The Hong Kong based film “Life Without Principle”, is a film that demonstrates the extremes we are capable of within human nature.

      “Life Without Principle”, directed by Johnnie To, projects capitalism in its most raw form. We have a sales investment banker Teresa who is humiliated by the fact that she has the lowest sales figures for the month. This character is the most relatable member of the cast because she is in a position of choosing to be selfless or selfish to attain her own well-being. Then there is a silly gangster Panther, who with the help of his sworn brother, is down to do whatever it takes to help bail his other Triad brother out of jail. Finally, Inspector Chueng, who’s wife’s taste for luxury are well beyond his means of income and also finds out that he is an uncle when he discovers an unknown sisters daughter has no where else to go.

      Although many would judge these characters for not having principles, we righteously are quick to claim our principles until we are in the situation. Teresa ended up being so fed up with being pushed around that she decided in the end to keep a loan sharks money who had been killed previously by a female and her boyfriend motivated by a want for a new phone and cosmetics. Panther became so desperate in his attempts that he and his sworn brother ran off with the money from the loan shark that was murdered. Inspector Chueng was the seemingly righteous character that tied the movie together as he was at all crime scenes. However, his wife would lose out on 1 million dollars from a down payment on the luxurious condo when the market crashed.

      Johnnie To took us on a tailspin of a ride that makes us question our morals and ethics. The cinematography was edited very smart such as when we could view Teresa’s boss watching her during a very uncomfortable sale. We also saw the face of a woman whose greed meant more to here than her boyfriend being in danger when trying to rob Mr. Yeun the loan shark.

      We are all capable banishing our principles when under the right amount of pressure and this motion picture illustrated it beautifully. No ones exempt from the survival instincts we carry and the different lifestyles each character portrayed. The film may not have been an action flick but the continuous shots with planned editing made the movie stream in a way that felt full of action tied with new discoveries every step of the way. It’s brilliance lies in the fact that when it’s over, we question our own morality while Johnnie To reminds us that no one is innocent.

  • LuLu

    Life Without Principal is a Hong Kong film that first premiered in 2011 at the 68th Venice Film Festival. The film was directed and produced by Johnnie To, he’s been seen as a master of action and crime films. Although I have not seen any of his others movies I agree that he definitely knows how to make a suspenseful storyline come to life.
    After learning a little bit about Hong Kong’s film industry history I can see several themes of it inside Life Without Principal. When the U.K. let go of Hong Kong and handed it over to China many filmmakers and actors fled to Hollywood to further pursue their career. The film industry in Hong Kong was declining due to a lot of talent leaving, piracy, and the Asian economic crisis. However Johnnie To was one of the few to stay in Hong Kong.
    Johnnie To believed Hong Kong’s film industry is still alive and by staying behind he has created many, many films. Something that really impressed me was the way Johnnie To transformed these everyday people into these thrilling people living life on the edge. He changed Teresa into this struggling women and constantly being humiliated at work to this badass women who finally had enough and did something for herself by taking a stand for herself (even though she might’ve not done it in the most ethical way). Most people have this stereotype that gangsters are supposed to be tough, scary, and intimidating I thought it was interesting how To made Panther the opposite. Although Panther was a gangster he was loyal to his boss and friends. He seemed like he wouldn’t hurt a fly and at the end of the movie if most people would get $5 million dollars they would buy something big. Panther’s big move was buying the most expensive cigar with his money. Inspector Cheung was seen as this authority figure who seems to have the most stable job yet To shows him as having problems in his personal life. Such as facing the problem of adopting his young sister or not.
    I felt that I couldn’t look away from the screen without missing something. The movie had all these different storylines that gradually became intertwined with each other as the film went on. It was really cool that all these different things occurred over a course of two days. I like watching movies like this where they have my attention, because it keeps my mind racing of what is going to happen next. This happened to me when Panther was behind Yuen’s car I kept thinking he was going to get caught by the other robbers.
    In the film all the characters Teresa, Panther, and Inspector Cheung have something in common and that is money. Money seems to be affecting all of them in some way. All of them are bring affected by the stock market and I feel like this represents the Asian economic status that Johnnie To experience in Hong Kong. I agree with my classmates that each character had some sort of motivation behind their actions and although not all of them were morally right. I really like what Brad said in class about the red line (risky) and green line (safe) being shown at the beginning. I feel like in life we all have a choice and the choice we make can make a big impact on us. I could see where all the characters were coming from. Although not all their choices were done in the “right” way I still liked all of them.
    Overall I really enjoyed this film and was amazed at how the stories became connected. It did take me awhile to learn the different characters however by the end of the film I felt like I understood the storyline. I myself don’t known what I would do if I were in Teresa’s position I can see that it was wrong, but I can also see it was okay. I think I would probably take the money, but deep down know it was wrong. In all it was a great film and I like that it made me think of what I would do if I were in a situation like the characters.

    • LuLu

      ***I copied it from word and it was broken into paragraphs. I’m sorry that it looks like one big one.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Terrific writing, Lulu. I especially like the highly original way you incorporate concepts discussed in my lecture into your analysis (e.g., drawing a parallel between the Hong Kong film industry and the Asian economic crisis of the 1990s with the characters in the film and the current global economic crisis). And don’t worry about the formatting: I can tell where the paragraph breaks are!

  • Nicole Ochal

    Life without principle

    Different from most movies, Life without Principle is a movie that came from Hong Kong and was created by a very influential man named Johnnie To, who is someone well known in Hong Kong that never gave up on the industry when there were scares. The film really focuses on life that isn’t so simple, and from different angles of life from different people and what others would do differently. It was a time where money was something nobody could come by easily. This movie was an example of a realist movie because of the way it symbolizes the financial issues that were taking place, which connects into everyday life for many people around the world.

    It starts off as a one-story plot line, but as the movie continues things start to unravel to a point where things that were unclear at first get cleared up by the end. In the begging it focuses on a man named Mr. Cheung, who is an investigator that is called in about a dead body at this apartment, as it goes on we see his girlfriend and they are trying to buy a new apartment but Mr. Cheung doesn’t really pay attention and just keeps putting it off, then we see a different shot of a women named Teresa, who is a young women that works at a bank where she is poorly treated and not successful, one of her clients was a gangster who was a millionaire who ends up getting killed in his car. The end of this scene at first is something nobody really gets but then after awhile the movie plays out and we are explained the whole story by the end.

    This movie I thought was very good and entertaining because although it definitely had a message and a meaning it was still funny and witty. To me, that’s important in a movie like that because although its easy to get lost with what is going on, it keeps the movie flowing and still having a edge while still making it somewhat more universal for any viewers. The characters were perfectly portrayed as normal people that we could all relate to, whether it be with Teresa the lady working at the bank, who was looked at as selfish for taking the money, or the investigator because of his steady and secure job that was more realistic and safe then the rest of them, or it could be the main character, Panther. Panther was a man that was also in a gangster environment even if the actual brothers didn’t look at him as someone that would battle and hold his own weight or even really have experience, they still looked at him as a brother, and the loyalty he had was different then the rest of the cast. Panther would of done anything for his sworn brothers knowing probably nobody would do it back for him. He was smart and had a great heart. He just wanted to help out the people he loved and protected. He would blink a mile a minute but he was the wittiest character because of how innocent and naive he really was, but how he ended up getting exactly what he deserved, a very nice and well-deserved break.

    When the movie finally finishes everything gets explained to us and we start to connect our real lives to theirs and ask would we of taken the money when Teresa did? The best thing about this movie was that it was a realistic representation of life in that time and what people had to do to make a living. It was a pure definition of do what you have to do. We live in a world where greed is all around us, and is in our nature, these people all had that characteristic of greed, even in the most hidden of ways, which is normal because of our nature. I really enjoyed this movie and recommend for many people to see.

  • Krista P

    Life Without Principle was a great film and as my teacher Mr. Smith said, “Hong Kong is the Hollywood of the east.”
    To, I find, to be very in depth in this film, very deliberate. What I mean by in depth is by there were many life clarifications…. Does money make us happy? Would you take the 5 million Hong Kong dollars? We really don’t know unless we were in that situation. Sure, one might say, “oh, me? I would never do such a thing, I have a good heart, or my parents didn’t raise me that way, and so on.” To really made me think about what I would do and myself. So, would I take the money? Absolutely.
    There are three stories that all intertwine in the end, brilliant! In the beginning I was confused but when To summed it up with Teresa eating her ice cream cone and Panther smoking his cigar, it all made sense. I loved and related the most the Panther. His body language said it all! He is a lovable gangster who was so dedicated to getting his “sworn brother” out of jail. I am a lot like that. I am not a gangster odiously, but when it comes to family, I will do whatever it takes to help. Panther did such amazing job acting; I loved the non-stop blinking of his eyes! I am sure that was all To’s idea! Oh, my favorite scene in the movie was when Teresa said, “I quit” to her boss. I know how much sales job can be tedious; it must have felt so good when she said that. I got the chills.
    Life Without Principle is a film, not a movie. Each scene shows real emotion, from the older lady in Teresa’s office, the old man in the elevator and even that little girls innocent face.

  • Alina

    Life Without Principle is a fitting name for Johnnie To’s 2011 film. The characters struggle with morality and what the purpose of life is. Money and capitalism is the central focus of the film, acting as a lens for the character’s actions. Money seduces the characters into greediness, stealing, and murder. Teresa’s decision to trick the old woman into a risky investment with her savings is especially heartbreaking when the old woman says, “When I’m rich I’ll buy you dinner.” It is especially sad to realize that this is the world we live in; where most people believe you have to take advantage to get ahead. For example, the woman who tried to rob Yuen with her boyfriend said she wanted money for a new phone, new bag, and new cosmetics. Her greediness has blinded her from seeing that committing a wrongful act for such trivial reasons seems ridiculous. Another ridiculous, yet funny, part of the film is when Panther’s brother is stabbed. Even with a metal stick through his chest his main focus in getting the money! He eventually dies, but he may have been able to save himself if he had chosen a hospital and himself over greed.
    To’s movie has a fundamental point of view about the human race, “Greed is human nature.” The characters are consumed by this and seem to lose the real meaning of life in the process. Inspector Cheung is the odd one out; he lives a relatively normal life with what seem to be good morals. He is not corrupted by the desire for endless wealth. His wife wants material comforts, but she obviously finds fulfilling meaning in her life from being with her husband. Much of her story in the film is focused on her wanting a nicer apartment, but when she thinks her husband is hurt on the news she is devastated. When she finally sees him walk out of the building she sobs and hugs him; this was the point in the film where she is most vulnerable and most human. The film is an eye-opening and thought provoking look at modern day capitalistic world we live in. We must make a choice whether to be consumed by greed or live humbly, comfortably, and with kindness.

  • Torrance McWhorter

    Life without Principle is a Johnnie To production. It is a well scripted movie. It shows from the past to the present and then at the end it puts it all together. The movie catches your attention by the music that is playing in the back ground, in the beginning of the movie so you are able to see where the scenes are going.
    Theresa is an actress that plays in this movie as a banker finical advisor. She is dealing with the stress from her boss to get her numbers up. She is at the bottom of the totem pole compared to her other coworkers and she knows that she is on the verge of getting fired.
    Panther is another character in this movie that is also dealing with stress from his gang brothers to get one of his gang brothers out of jail. Panther comes up with the money the first time to get his brother out. Right when his gang brother gets out he gets arrested again for a different change and Panther needs to figure out how to get the money again to get his gang brother out of jail the second time. Panthers loyalty to his brothers is unbelievable because he needs to round up all the money from all the other brothers to get one of the brothers out of jail.
    Inspector Chung puts this movie together. He has to deal with two different murders. One of the murders was when the loan shark came from the bank and got robed in the parking lot. They did not just take the money but they killed him and did not get away with any money because Panther was in the back seat of his car waiting to do the same thing and rob the loan shark, so Panther got away with the money. Theresa ran out of the bank to give the loan shark his phone because he had left his phone in the bank. When she got to the parking lot she saw the loan shark dead in his car. She still had the rest of his withdrawal money that he had told her to deposit into his account.
    How this all ties in is that two different people has to make a life decision on what to do. Panther on which way to play the stock market. Should he go with what his friend told him and play points down, instead he played for them to go up. Theresa knowing that she is at the bottom of the totem pole at work, knowing she is about to lose her job does she take the dead mans money or put it back into his account. Both Theresa and Panther made their own decision on what is best for them. Theresa walked away with five million of stolen money and Panther walked away with ten million stolen money from playing the stock market. There paths crossed but neither one did not know how much there lives have changed from the same incident that happened earlier that day.
    Life without Principle a great movie well directed, great actors, good camera angles, great title of the movie. Torrance M gives this movie two thumbs up!

  • darcy

    Johnnie To uses slow motion and phenomenal editing in LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE, which are used to emphasize the themes of greed/temptation/monotony. One of my favorite scenes was when Theresa was trying to sell a high risk investment to an old woman, and was recording her so she could hear her to say, “I understand completely” on tape for her boss. At first glance this sounds like something that would be boring and tedious to watch, especially since it is dragged on for 10 minutes, but instead To transformed it into a great piece of absurdist comedy, as you said on your blog. The main reason why this scene was so funny to watch was because of the fact that it was dragged out for so long, I could see the old woman’s entire personality start to change as she got sucked into the high investment, becoming increasingly more robotic with every “I understand completely” that she uttered (she even said it after Theresa asked her if she wanted coffee!) and underwent a transformation into the dark side (or actually the red side is more like it). When Teresa went to fetch the old woman coffee, the shot of her pouring the coffee was elongated, emphasizing how monotonous her life was, and maybe getting coffee for her customer was the only escape from her tedious job. The shot of Teresa’s boss peering at her from the window not only symbolized the burdensome pressure Teresa had to endure from her boss, but added a sense of claustrophobia to the scene, like the viewers were trapped in this cycle of capitalism along with the characters.

    Another piece of editing that I liked in the film was the recurring close up shots of the key that opened the drawer containing the $5 million dollars. These close ups symbolized the temptation that Teresa had to steal the deposit money, and by showing the key, it was like a little secret between Teresa and the viewers. The key could also be To’s way of making the viewers question if the key to life/success really is in fact money.

  • Marguerite Yang

    The film, Life Without Principle, 2011, directed by Johnnie To, was a crime film based on the premiss that the characters acted without morals, or principles, when they were placed in certain capitalism caused circumstances. The director chose three main characters (Panther, Cheung, and Teresa) who reacted based on their moral beliefs during a particular set of economic circumstances. The director created three story lines that connected at various points of the film. Johnnie To strengthened this connection by replaying each character’s contact with Yeun, a slimy loan shark, in such a way as to show each contact from the character’s point of view. This made the flow of the film sometimes confusing, though all three story lines made sense by the end of the film.

    The first of the main characters was Panther, an out-of-date want-to-be gangster who could not seem to get anything right. He obviously tried hard to do the right moral thing according to his outdated code of honor, but his “brothers” took advantage of him numerous times in the film. The director made Panther the comic character of the film. From dressing Pather in obviously outdated and garish clothing to slapstick fight scenes, Johnnie To used Panther to lighten the mood of this crime film. Even Panther’s connection to Yeun was humorous.

    Panther, desperate to get money to help one of his brothers, hid in Yeun’s car so that he could kill and rob Yeun. Ironically, Yeun’s own employee killed Yeun and stole his money while Panther was in the car. Yeun killed his employee and Panther walked away with the money. Though Panther was shown throughout the film as being the underdog, the final joke was Panther correctly predicting the stock market and ending up with a lot of money.

    Cheung was another of the three main characters. Cheung was a police inspector who Johnnie To portrayed as a non-morally challenged character. Cheung appeared to be oblivious to the economic circumstances of the capitalism around him. Cheung was not shown playing the stock market or making risky investments. He just appeared to be doing his police work – which includes his investigation into Yeun’s death.

    Johnnie To put a twist in the moral story by giving Cheung a wife who was caught up in the capitalism caused circumstances. She pushed her husband to agree to buy a fancy flat that was obviously more than the couple could afford. When Cheung wouldn’t agree to the investment, his wife invested without his knowledge. At the end of the film, the couple was saved from the economic disaster caused by the wife’s actions when a rich investor was able to buy the flat from them.

    Teresa was the third main character in the film. She was a professional working in a bank. Most viewers could probably relate to her moral challenges. Teresa was miserable in her job, particularly when her boss humiliated her at a department meeting. This humiliation pushed Teresa to work long hours with no success. This work environment pushed her to make morally challenging decisions. One of these was to push an elderly woman to invest her savings in a high risk investment.
    Another was to take advantage of a mistake and luck, and take an untraceable $5 million HK with her as she quit her job. The first moral decision was obviously done to save her job. The second moral decision was obviously done because it was the lesser of evils compared to her continuing what she had to do to keep her job. The money was from bank transactions she did for Yeun – a withdraw of Yeun’s money that he then did not wait to get returned to his bank account.

    The film, Life Without Principle, 2011, directed by Johnnie To, was a crime film set in a environment of economic crisis. Each of the characters directly or indirectly were effected by moral decisions surrounding economic circumstances. Whether the characters made the correct moral decisions or not, would be dependent on how sympathetic a viewer was to the characters.

  • Tamara Fleysh

    Johnnie To in the movie “Life without Principles” mixed three genres: comedy, drama and action. I enjoy the concept of repetition of the movie a lot of scenes reoccurred three times: Teresa, the bank clerk, tried to recode the agreement about high-risk investments between bank and the old woman three times: the loan shark was rubbed three times: and Johnnie To returned to the same scene when the loan shark Yuen was killed three times.
    “Life without Principles” was a very intense movie, it forced the watchers to try to conceive what they would it in a certain situation and which choice they would make if they were faced with same scenario. In the movie Teresa was not a bad person because she did not want the old woman to put her saving in high-risk investments. However, under pressure from her boss she convinced the old woman to take the risk. Teresa also stole five million Hong Kong dollars from the loan shark Yuen after his death, but she only did it because she was afraid that she would be fired. I could not decide how I would act it in the same situation, especially if the opportunity presented itself as it happened to Teresa.
    I would definitely not act the way the lovable character Panther had acted when he was ready to rub and possibly even kill for his sworn brother. He bought a box cutter to a robbery and I don’t think someone would do so if they not ready to use it. In his shoes I would have brought pepper spray if I truly didn’t intend to hurt anyone. And after all Panther was not loyal to his sworn brother, because instead of bringing him to the hospital or an underground doctor after he was hurt, he let his sworn brother drive around with stick in his lung to underground market where he could improve his financial situation.
    I think this movie expresses concept that under the certain circumstances, people are capable if doing many things that they otherwise never do.

  • Alex

    Life Without Principle is a crime movie that puts a whole new meaning to the genre. In most crime movies we see a group of criminals being chased by police for the entire movie. In To’s work that is just a part of the plot as we see the police harass the triad multiple times, but more specifically Brother Wah. We also see multiple perspectives of the same event to gain a more rounded vision of what is actually going on in this story. When the loan shark was murdered in the parking lot of the bank we see that not only is the masked man trying to get the bag of cash but Panther was also in the back seat attempting to get away with the bag. We learn from this the differing reasons each one had in stealing; Panther was there to get the money for his “Brothers” while the masked man was there so he could buy his girlfriend more make up. It was also very shocking to see the girlfriend care more that she didn’t get the money rather than the fact her boyfriend just died, which can be an example of money over love.
    A theme that is thrown in our face throughout the movie is that money is the most important thing in life. One of the most comedic parts of the movie is when Brother Lung gets stabbed in the heart but instead of going to the hospital he drives to a bank where he tells Panther to bet on the market going down. Panther ends up betting that it will rise, and as it does slowly Lung has a slow death in his car as he was not only wrong about the market but the decision to not seek medical attention. Johnnie To may being trying to show his audience here that if money is your only goal, no matter how well you know the stock market, it will be the death of you.
    Teresa, the bank employee, shows us arguably the most relatable scenario for stealing five million dollars. Teresa is at the bottom of her job and in hind sight will most likely be let go from the company. Her boss pressures her to sell high risk stocks, but she knows that these people will lose all their money if they buy them. The loan shark who was murdered left five million in her office to deposit the next day but took the other five million with him. After Teresa was questioned by the police she realizes she can take the money and run because the deposit slip was never filled out. In this case money was taken from a rich slime ball and put in the hands of an average person who needed to get out of their current job.
    Inspector Chung is the moral compass of this film as he shows the good in humanity. But the most intriguing part that he is in is not when he’s inspecting murders or in an elevator filling with gas and a crazy old man with a lighter, but at the very end when he is at the realtor with his wife and little sister who he is now the guardian of. The realtor gives them the choice of buying the condo or letting a rich business man take it. The scene freezes and we do not get to see what decision they make. This provides an interesting fork in the road because the condo was already very expensive and now they even have a child they need to feed. It leaves us wondering if the moral center of this film will take the high risk or if he will play it safe and buy an affordable house.

  • Danny

    Watching this movie, Life Without Principle, I got anxiety. Not because I didn’t like it, I actually really enjoyed it, but because of the challenge of the main theme in film—money, money, money: wanting more money, trying to get more money, understanding that money won’t solve all problems. It’s a difficult subject. People have so many different ways of dealing with it and obtaining it. As the film demonstrates through its principal characters, money is difficult to obtain because you may hate the job you’re working (Teresa), or you may have to obtain it through illegal activity (Panther), or someone close in your life (the wife) wants you to get more to buy them what they want (Inspector Cheung). Greed is everything, but at the same time you sympathize with the character for why they end up doing what they do in their given circumstances. I believe Teresa took the money because she felt it was a last resort for her and she could get away with it, consequence free. Panther, too, was trying to get all his “sworn brother{s}” out of difficult situations, like jail. On the flip side, Inspector Cheung actually seemed to like his job and was doing well for himself, but his wife nagged him to get a new apartment and adopt his younger lost sister. He can’t afford to do these things, but his wife doesn’t understand it. She just assumes that since he has this job as an inspector that he should be making enough money for her to spend on whatever she wants—she doesn’t seem to understand that his money is not limitless. Like I said, money is a difficult subject. As a result, I felt bad during the conversation the class had after the film because I had little to contribute that had anything to do with the politics of it all. Ironically, as I write this, the song “Money (That’s What I Want)” by the Beatles came on and I can’t think of a better line that sums up the movie’s title better: “the best things in life are free.” Maybe that’s what the director, Johnnie To, meant by Life Without Principle and that the most important things in life aren’t obtainable by money and that one should not sacrifice their principles to have a genuine, happy life.

  • Mia

    Life Without Principle by Johnnie To is more than just a good movie. It is the spoon that stirs the pot of contrasting ideals and beliefs thrown together by its viewers. Who’s sins are forgivable; who can we relate to? We always seem to try and connect ourselves with the character who’s actions we see as justifiable. However, are we picture perfect examples? I mean, if our lives were movies, would people see us as the villain or the hero? The great thing about these characters is that none of them were relatable, in my opinion. They each had their own different identities and scenarios, which makes the characters unique, just like people in reality. The characters were so human, it was hard to decide who was the hero and who was the villain. I guess it would be easiest to say that inspector Cheung was the hero, but even then he seemed very cold when given the option to take care of his little sister after the death of their father. To me, throwing your little sister away in an orphanage is more coldhearted than tricking an old woman into throwing her life savings away in a high-risk investment.
    If I had to choose a character between Teresa, Cheung, and Panther to look up to, I’d honestly choose the shady gangster over the cop and sales associate. He may constantly break the law and possibly have a drug addiction (those eyes tell me “yes”) but he loves the people in his life and does a good job showing that. The inspector neglects his wife to work and make money. He doesn’t want to spend his hard earned cash on a nice home for his wife and sister, who he doesn’t seem to give a single shit about. Teresa… who even knows who she cares about. After stealing 5 million, she celebrated with an ice-cream cone, not a buddy. After Panther stole 5 million, he bought a cigar like the one his dead friend liked to smoke. I thought that was sentimental and a small tribute to the loss of one of his sworn brothers. So, ironically, the most moral character in my opinion was the one that our capitalistic society would label as a bad guy. You have to think about the other characters, who don’t break the law, but are still as flawed as Panther. Does the fact that they aren’t law breakers make them better people than Panther? Is evil still evil if it’s legal? In the end, Teresa did break the law, but it was at that point that she finally looked free.
    This film shows us that no one is safe from the pressure that comes with a money driven world. It’s easy to be self-righteous and say that you would never do the wrong thing. Just like the characters in To’s film, no one is a perfect angel. Everyone is flawed and we are all a pieace of this money hungry world. It’s unfortunate but true that we don’t hold the power of the world in our hands, we are players in someone else’s game. You can play, or you can lose.

  • My Top 100 Films of the Decade | White City Cinema

    […] “’Expect the unexpected’ might as well be the motto for To’s entire career, for no other director of the past quarter century has done so much to reinvigorate genre filmmaking by so consistently pushing genre conventions in as many surprising, intelligent and highly personal directions.” Full White City Cinema review here. […]

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