TT_ (1989)
Sentenced to Hang

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 06/10/2008

Taylor Wong's 1989 film Sentenced to Hang has a notable place in Hong Kong movie history, as it was among the first pictures to receive a Category III (roughly equal to the US' NC-17) rating. It also helped pave the way for the "true crime" genre, which would become popular in the early 1990's. Unfortunately, the movie falls prey to melodrama in parts, and thus can't be considered a "great" film, but it is still a very solid dramatic work.

Loosely based off of a 1960's crime that became known as "The Strange Case of the Three Wolves" and would be the last to carry out the death penalty in Hong Kong, Sentenced to Hang tells the story of three life-long friends: Wai (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), Charn (Kent Cheng), and King (Elvis Tsui). Like many residents of Hong Kong, they all have menial jobs, but dream of making it big.

After Wai is fired by his penny-pinching boss, Mr. Huang (Tien Feng), the trio decide to kidnap Huang's son, Bobby (Stuart Ong). Things go awry from the start after a local con man named Snake (Yu Gwok-Lok) overhears their plan and decides to get in on the action. Matters only become worse when the men attempt the kidnapping, which ends up resulting in Bobby's death.

Wai and his crew get the idea to try and fool Huang into paying a ransom, but after he refuses, they decide to kidnap Huang himself. They succeed in getting a large sum of money, but the word of their crime quickly spreads, and after Snake rats the rest of the conspirators, the friends soon find themselves on a quick trip to death row.

Besides the concrete facts of the case, such as the actual kidnapping and killing, it's hard to tell what is fact and fiction in Johnny Mak and Stephen Shiu's script. Supposedly, much of it was based on first-hand accounts from those that knew the trio, but seeing as how this case was a tabloid sensation in Hong Kong, and it was some twenty-five years after the fact when this movie was filmed, it's hard to believe that what is presented here is an accurate portrayal of the events.

However, this doesn't mean that Taylor Wong sensationalizes things in any way. The trio of leads are well-rounded; they're neither good nor bad, and even though some of their actions are repugnant, the audience still manages to find sympathy for them. Also, this is not the gore-fest fans of Category III films might expect. The rating probably came more for some brief glimpses of female frontal nudity and the portrayal of the police as violent buffoons (an element which would become a staple in true crime films).

Cinematographer Herman Yau, who would go on to direct what many consider to be the best Category III film, The Untold Story, creates a very stark visual style. Ala Hitchcock, the viewer interprets what is (sometime barely) shown on-screen and makes their own conclusions as to what's going on and how much blood is being spilled. The exception to this are the climatic hanging scenes, which aren't graphic per se, but they're definitely disturbing.

As good as the overall construction of the movie is, it is let down a bit by the direction and action, which seems hammy and heavy-handed at times. The leads do turn in solid performances for the most part, but there's segments where Wong is obviously trying to get a point across and resorts to having the actors scream out their lines. It's a hollow dramatic device, and made some scenes feel cheap, instead of resonating emotionally with the viewer.

[review from]

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 04/09/2006
Summary: "you bunch of bastards!"

the first film to receive a catIII rating, but you shouldn't expect the usual exploitation style, with a sex and violence aplenty. this is a drama, based on true strory, about three friends, li, ma and tang; after li is fired by his vile boss, ma (a 'hair sticker' - he attaches pubic wigs to exotic dancers) and tang (a driving instructor) decide to get their own back, but their plans soon escalate out of control as kidnapping turns into murder.

the three friends, nicknamed 'the wolves' are played with gusto by tony leung, kent cheng and elvis tsui (sans kiss-curl).

a solid, tragic drama...

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 04/03/2004
Summary: Is this the remake of "kidnap"

Look at the movie "kidnap" i think it's the same movie

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 05/13/2002
Summary: VERY GOOD

[Sentenced To Hang]

A sad but brutal and true story which took place in Hong Kong during the mid 60’s about the group of 3 men known as the ‘Wolfs’. Sentenced To Hang (meaning “Strange Case of Three Wolfs” in Chinese) tells the story of one of the most shocking crime sprees that ever took place in Hong Kong.

In case you are not aware of the story, (I’m sure most fans of crime films will know of the real life story anyway) it’s about 3 men who after blundering a crime decided to carry on with a kidnap and a murder massacre, leaving a several victims dead.

The title is important too, as they were the last criminals to ever be executed by hanging, before law and justice was changed in Hong Kong.

I won’t really go into the story, as it should be obvious anyway from what I have said already. The story is looked at by the perspective of the 3 men and their relationships towards each other (which was probably fictional to a certain extent as the men never really got to tell their own side of the story) and also the hard time the police had to put up with as they tried to track the men down.

Probably the best performances I have seen by Tony Leung, Elvis Tsui and Kent Cheng. If one person spoils the film though, it’s Carina Ng.

If you like thrilling and real life crime films, this is a must. However, it’s category 3 rating (one of the first in HK) is not there for any old reason, as there are some very brutal scenes in it. Also, it’s 2 hour running time is a bit much, as the main story could have been filled nicely within 90 minutes, which means there are several parts of the film that drag. But don’t let that put you off. I’m very surprised though to see nobody else has reviewed this film, as it’s quite old and would have thought loads of people would have seen it. Hats off to Taylor Wong!


Rating: [4.5/5]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Inspired by yesterday's headlines, this is a true-to-lifethriller about three men on the wrong side of the tracks. Fired by his tyrannical boss, Lee retaliates by teaming up with his sworn brothers, Kin and Ma, and kidnapping the boss's spoiled son. But events soon spin out of control and the men find themselves committing murder. Another tense and starkly realistic drama from the director of Long Arm of the Law.

[Reviewed by Rim Films Catalog]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

The very first movie to receive a category 3 rating.

[Reviewed by BDC]