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Imprisoned: Survival Guide
for Rich and Prodigal

Gregory Wong (front) is feeling a little imprisoned.


Year: 2015  

Christopher Sun


Chan Wing-Lun, Albert Lee Wing-Ho


Toni Shum Sek-Yin, Mark Wu Yiu-Fai, Christopher Sun, Ng Siu-Lun

Action: Jack Wong Wai-Leung

Gregory Wong Chung-Yiu, Justin Cheung Kin-Seng, Liu Kai-Chi, Tommy Wong Kwong-Leung Babyjohn Choi, Jessy Lee Chi-Yin, Candace Yu On-On, Tsui Kam-Kong, Ken Lo Wai-Kwong, Philip Keung Ho-Man, Lam Suet, Wan Yeung-Ming, Deno Cheung Chung-Kei, Hanjin Tan, Anita Chui, Coffee Lam Yuen-Ha, Aaron Chow Chi-Kwan, Hui Ka-Kit, Raymond Chiu Wing-Hung, Yeung Kin-Ping, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Ng Chi-Hung, Yuen Qiu, Ho Ka-Kui

The Skinny: Entertaining but resolutely average prison film that succeeds mostly on its familiar tropes and situations. The missteps – like the irredeemable lead character, uneven acting and juvenile treatment of women – are hard to ignore, however. The veteran supporting cast is a plus.
by Kozo:

Prison comedy-drama Imprisoned: Survival Guide for Rich and Prodigal is based on an online novel published on Golden Forum, an exceptionally popular Hong Kong message board that also hosted the source material for Due West: Our Sex Journey (also from Imprisoned makers China 3D), The Midnight After and Golden Brother. This Internet synergy is an awesome marketing hook for China 3D, whose talent for promotion has long outweighed its actual filmmaking prowess, and indeed Imprisoned’s origin is touted on its marketing copy as a positive. The movie has comparatively less to get excited about, though that evaluation has more to do with the exaggerated marketing than the movie outright sucking.

Due West veteran Gregory Wong stars as Nelson Yu, a rich douchebag who’s sentenced to 18 months in Stanley Prison after a hit-and-run accident. Nelson is put off by the seedy nature of life in the pokey because he’s a brat who’s been spoiled by his clueless mother (Candace Yu in a two-dimensional role). However, after a crash course in prison economics, i.e., cigarettes equal money and bribes are the preferred method of lobbying, Nelson becomes a bonafide prison player, complete with paid lackeys and a newfound sense of camaraderie that he never had back in “the world.” Unfortunately, Nelson’s past mistakes come back to haunt him, yadda yadda yadda.

Imprisoned mines the same themes as other prison films, most notably Ringo Lam’s seminal Prison on Fire movies, and Imprisoned acknowledges its cribbing with a few key references and callbacks. One very obvious callback is the cast, which includes Tommy Wong and the late William Ho Ka-Kui, both of whom appeared in Ringo Lam’s films and also the direct-to-video Prison on Fire series of the early aughts. Seeing the duo – plus actors like Tsui Kam-Kong, Keung Ho-Man, Lam Suet, Liu Kai-Chi and Wan Yeung-Ming – gives the film instant cred. These dudes have the presence and weathered looks to convince as cynical, beaten-down prison inmates. Maybe their years of thankless servitude to the Hong Kong film industry informed their performances.

The veteran actors provide a welcome balance to the younger cast members, who aren’t as effective outside of Babyjohn Choi, who plays Roach, Nelson’s pathetic prison buddy. Gregory Wong is serviceable but shallow in the lead role, while Justin Cheung, as main antagonist Jack Leui, dials his overacting up to an alarming fourteen. Jack’s arrival at the prison spins the story from borderline satire to something more serious; Jack and Nelson had a run-in prior to their prison sentences, and the threat of Jack’s retribution adds needed tension. However, the film is mostly about how Nelson goes through the prison wringer and comes out a better man – a story that’s been told many times before, and Imprisoned does little to improve upon the formula.

While the situations have an abundance of built-in drama, the filmmakers miss opportunities for stronger conflict or tension, plus the treatment of female characters is excessively juvenile even by this genre’s already regressive standards. Imprisoned begins and ends with women as sex objects, and even though Nelson bemoans his separation from his girlfriend May (Jessy Lee), he still keeps a mistress, plus he drones on and on about the importance of women having big boobs. So much for prison making him a better person, eh? Technically, the movie is only OK. Better editing could have tightened up the pace and the visuals are unremarkable. The prison interiors are almost always dark, which presumably is meant to add “grittiness”, but just makes the film look cheap. Director Christopher Sun is not much of a stylist or storyteller, but he directed 3D Sex and Zen so any high expectations would be our fault.

Also, there’s too much voiceover. Whole sections of the film are explained via long swathes of droning Nelson narration, though at one point the disembodied chatter cuts off a potentially long Liu Kai-Chi monologue – a bonus for those who tense up at the threat of a Liu Kai-Chi overacting barrage. That’s not many people, but Imprisoned probably isn’t for that many people either, as it lacks much to recommend outside of its standard tropes and occasional trashiness. It would be nice to say better things about it, but Imprisoned is one of those films that pleases already inclined audiences without impressing anyone else. It’s a derivative and unremarkable Hong Kong movie that’s comfortable being one – and in the final analysis, that’s OK. Hong Kong already has classic prison movies anyway. (Kozo, 8/2015)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama (HK)
2-DVD Special Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also available on Blu-ray Disc
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