Home > Film > Life Without Principle or Dyut meng gam (2011)

Life Without Principle or Dyut meng gam (2011)

Perhaps it’s rather depressing to start with a hope that all the films featuring greed as if it’s endemic to Hong Kong are exaggerated. Yet, the more consistently the theme appears, as in The Heart of Greed (2007) by TVB, the more I’m drawn to the conclusion this small country, now run under the “one-China” system, is caught up in the worst excess of the vice. In the West, we’re perhaps more used to thinking of the Gordon Gekko stereotype as representing the worst of our own brand of capitalism, particularly as practised by the banks. Yet it’s daunting to consider the sheer number of Hong Kongers that play the various markets and, if that’s not enough action, then turn to more conventional gambling. Fairly recent research shows about 70% of the population engage in at least one form of gambling with slightly more than half those gambling being under the age of twenty-one. This reflects a widespread belief that “fate” can be controlled in the search for ways of making quick money.

Panther (Ching Wan Lau) defends himself


Life Without Principle or Dyut meng gam revolves around a day in the life of Teresa (Denise Ho) a bank employee who faces the daily grind of trying to sell investments to anyone with savings. Her lot is not a happy one because she has to take the abuse when she cold calls, and the anger when the investments she sells fail to deliver the expected high returns. Worse, her sales record is the worst in her team and she knows she will be the next one fired. Her morning then runs with two extremes and one in the middle walking through her door. She has a little old lady (So Hang-Shuen) who knows nothing about investment, but feels the nominal interest rates paid on savings are an insult. After some negotiation, the innocent mark buys units in an investment trust based on the BRIC economies. She’s officially certified low risk. This is high risk investment and we all know it’s not going to work out well. The second client is Connie (Myolie Wu), a police inspector’s wife, who wants a mortgage to buy a flat. This is a no-brainer. Inspector Cheung (Richie Ren) is a civil servant with a solid salary and can afford this loan. The final client is Yuen (Lo Hoi-Pang) a money lender who hoards cash so it’s available to be lent out at high rates of interest. When she tries to sell him an investment, he gives her chapter and verse on why her product is a bad deal. Naturally, she knows he speaks the truth. He’s come to collect HK$10 million but, in a couple of angry telephone calls, this is reduced to $5 million because the borrower is not promising enough security. This leaves $5 million in the hands of Teresa without a signed deposit slip as the moneylender heads off to the underground car park. Sadly, he’s then attacked by a wannabe thief, and they beat each other to death. The money disappears and, miracle of miracles, it looks as though Teresa may be able to pocket the $5 million.

Teresa (Denise Ho) has another bad day


It should be said this is a key day in the history of the world’s stock exchanges when the possibility of the Greek Government’s default emerged and the Euro tanked. Bearing this fact in mind, we then have a long flashback which is very badly signalled. Frankly, I was confused as we switched into a completely different narrative thread featuring Panther (Ching Wan Lau), a minder for triad bosses who’s fanatically loyal, as honest as the day is long, and fascinated by patterns in betting behaviour. We first watch him at work collecting hong baos before a celebratory dinner, then follow him as he raises the money to bail out his sworn brother gangster (Siu-Fai Eddie Cheung) who’s been arrested yet again. One of those touched for money is a karung guni man who prospers by collecting paper and cardboard boxes. He’s one of the few people we meet who makes an honest living. He matches the old man in the lift who sees only hopelessness for those at the bottom of the heap yet who’s talked out of committing suicide by Inspector Cheung. Later we have the mirror image of hard work and its just rewards when Inspector Cheung interviews the wannabe robber’s girlfriend (J.J. Jia). She’s aggressively unapologetic for seeing robbery as the best way to get ahead in Hong Kong. Her anger at her boyfriend’s incompetence and unfortunate demise is beautifully judged.

Inspector Cheung (Richie Ren) and Connie (Myolie Wu) thinking about the future


Anyway, Panther turns out to be the pivotal figure as he volunteers to help an old friend who runs an intermediate level share-dealing operation. This friend anticipates a market drop and tries to close out his primary account with a triad boss. This attempted hack is immediately identified and he then needs to borrow from the loan shark to cover his losses. Panther is therefore the one who picks up the $5 million after the independent robber is beaten to a pulp.


If this was a morality tale, it would be good to report that virtue was rewarded and the sinners were all punished, but life never works out like that. Somehow, career criminals always seem to end up more wealthy than when they started, honest police officers stay poor throughout, and bank employees get fired when they fail to hit their targets. So, through a mixture of well-honed skills, righteousness and blind luck, some get ahead while others are impoverished as the world share markets prove volatile. Although Life Without Principle or Dyut meng gam starts slowly and is confusing when it switches in time, it builds to a conclusion no-one should want to argue with. It’s not a case of just deserts, but director Johnnie To seems to strike the right balance between winners and losers. Think of it as a thriller in that people are killed in the pursuit of money, a police procedural in that someone must make an effort to enforce the law, and a kind of comedy in that for someone to win on a bet, others must lose.


Hong Kong director Johnnie To Kei-fung won best director for Life Without Principle and Lau Ching Wan was named best actor for his role at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Awards 2012.


Other films featuring Lau Ching Wan:
The Bullet Vanishes or Xiao shi de zi dan (2012)
The Great Magician
Mad Detective or San taam
Overheard 2


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