Acclaimed Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To has abandoned his trademark action thrillers — at least for now — to tackle a story inspired by the global financial crisis.
His latest effort, "Life Without Principle," tracks the days leading up to, and the day of, a dramatic plunge at the Hong Kong stock market. It made its world premiere Friday at the Venice Film Festival.
"Financial crisis is a theme right now, there are many stock markets in the world, and I felt like Hong Kong has become a casino," To told reporters in Venice.
"In the last 2-3 years, people have changed their morals. They are more and more interested in money," he said.
The story follows three characters whose lives intersect amid the financial turmoil: bank teller Teresa, played by Hong Kong singer-turned-actress Denise Ho; a loan shark named Panther, played by veteran actor Lau Ching-wan; and a police inspector, Cheung Jin Fong, played by Taiwanese actor-singer Richie Jen.
The movie is shot in a style that is partly serious, partly caper-comic — or, as To put it, "this film is a bit realistic but also fantasy."
"In the writing, I try to find humor," To explained. "I certainly don't want to make a photocopy of reality."
The director is most famous for action thrillers such as "Breaking News" or "The Election." He acknowledged that "Life Withour Principle" represents a change from his normal style and said he was awaiting for the audience's reaction.
"I want to know how the public takes it and hear if they will accept my change," To said.
The movie was the last to screen in competition before the festival announces the winner of the Golden Lion on Saturday.