The Story of a Discharged Prisoner:”Be a good man.”

Year: 1967
Directed by Patrick Lung Kong
Produced by Hoh Gin-Yip
Written by Patrick Lung Kong
Cast: Patrick Tse Yin, Sek Kin, Mak Gei, Patrick Lung Kong, Chan Chi Chung, Wong Wai, Kar Ling, Ping Do, Mang Lee, Sai Gwa-Pau, Chow Gat, and Wong Hak

After serving in prison for 15 years, a former prisoner finds himself unable to be accepted by society or his family. All the while, a mob boss and his gang readily harass him because of his refusal to work for them once again.

The Story of a Discharged Prisoner is mostly remembered as being the film that inspired John Woo’s groundbreaking A Better Tomorrow. Patrick Lung Kong’s seminal work has fallen into semi-obscurity. A obscurity that I found is a bit unfair and undeserving. Story of a Discharged Prisoner is far from just a primitive rendition of A Better Tomorrow. If truth be told, The Story of a Discharged Prisoner stands firmly apart from A Better Tomorrow in style and content. The two do share parallels but The Story of a Discharged Prisoner is more understated of the two.

As a socially conscious melodrama, the story puts a great emphasis on the social repercussions of being a former convict in Hong Kong of the 1960s. The public humiliation never rubs off and you’re forced to be a social pariah. Lee Cheuk-hung’s confinement isn’t even an open secret but masked behind the lie that he was away in Singapore for some business venture. Lee Cheuk-hung isolates himself from his family in the hopes that his family does not become stigmatized. It’s a bottom-up story despite the thematic focus being largely top down. Patrick Tse Yin’s solemn performance conveys beautifully the damaging effects of the social stigma he endures. His soft-spoken manner of speaking and his weary temperament sells the performance. The others are good but it is Patrick Tse Yin’s performance that the story relies upon the most. The Story of a Discharged Prisoner maintains its commitment to its social messaging by keeping its conflicts, low-key . Simple cases of embarrassment and public humiliation are much as part of the conflict as the evil schemes of the Triad. It’s the more grounded ambiance that evens out the melodrama and heightens the authenticity . Since the violence isn’t sensualized, the action is always kept in the confines of believability. Which is a stark contrast from the combat depicted in A Better Tomorrow. It is strictly driven by the melodrama and the action is a simple means to an end. So, it is undoubtedly better focused and more cohesive than John Woo’s approach in A Better Tomorrow. The final confrontation serves as a powerful outlet for the melodrama to reach its intended message.

The Story of a Discharged Prisoner is Patrick Lung Kong’s heartfelt attempt to raise social awareness for the downtrodden. A socially conscious melodrama that’s able to weave the personal story of a single discharged prisoner into a strong moralistic social commentary.

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