After This Our Exile - Director's Cut - Original Full Version (2006)
Directed by: Patrick Tam
Awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2007:
An important figure in the new wave of films hitting Hong Kong in the early 1980s, for instance the social drama Nomad starring Cecilia Yip, Leslie Cheung and Pat Ha. Although he gave us the best swordplay movie ever via The Sword during this time as well. Not a hefty amount of directorial worked follow and the director even expressed a dissatisfaction with his work as time passed. The completion of My Heart Is That Eternal Rose initiated a hiatus from the director's chair but having mentored Wong Kar-Wai earlier, he was employed to edit his classics Days Of Being Wild, Ashes Of Time and more recently Election for Johnnie To. Although he had relocated to Malaysia to teach film studies, something came across him that kickstarted creativity. A story about a father who taught his son to be a thief so having no pressure on him to deliver immediately, a process taking close to 10 years paid off when After This Our Exile was finished and reaped coveted awards across Asia. In addition to that came the critical acclaim but more importantly, a warm welcome hug from parts of the fan community (it's genre cinema after all, can't be noticed by all). This important but not overly prolific pro of a filmmaker is Patrick Tam.
After This Our Exile was released in different versions in China, Hong Kong and Malaysia (for censoring and commercial reasons), all supervised by Tam who served as chief editor but the version running 159 minutes came to be the director's cut (about 40 minutes longer than the Hong Kong cinema edit) and that's what the review is basing its train of thoughts on. Thoughts leaning towards praising a very long but engrossing experience that inspires more than it touches but neither would be an unacceptable verdict for Mr. Tam I'm sure.
If this film touches your heart, I hope it comes not from an excess of sentiments but a moving experience that endures reflection" - Patrick Tam.
This blurb signals confidence, a particular style of filmmaking and a thoroughly enticing invitation. Especially so since I am a fan of quiet, subtle filmmaking...when done right obviously. Involving himself heavily, in addition to being director and co-writer, Tam has credits as part of the art directing department, editing and the music design so naturally we're dealing with a character that needs to be hands on. All for the sake of cinematic passion and perfection. Nothing original about that but few can make the actual passion and creativity happen. And it does, molded out of a very simple template of one father (Aaron Kwok), one mother (Charlie Yeong) and one son (Gow Ian Iskander). Tam utilizes a very straightforward frame where nonsense such as specific props, in specific colours does NOT speak of political climate, are pre-cursors of things to come or carry any other pretentious ideas. Props are there to make the environment real and Tam smoothly makes it so by superbly establishing the cracks in the family unit. Cracks that are not hidden. On the contrary, they're about to open up to gorge like proportions. We ask ourselves what's driving Charlie Yeong's Lin to pack up and leave EVERYHING behind as it's a irrational decision that she only gains from, not having to deal with anything anymore. One wouldn't blame her though for desiring to leave Aaron Kwok's Shing as he's a gambler, a low-life and a pretty piss poor family man all round.
In the opening reels, Patrick Tam pushes with edits that are cut with a rusty knife, imposes Kinson Tsang's (Dumplings) sound design to easily get us on the edge and gives us a taste of the classic reasoning of the abusive, low life husband. After smacking up Lin in the streets and locking her in the bedroom, he not only doesn't have the correct key to free her so he has to kick in the door, he puts forth his reconciliation act by treating her wounds and eventually getting her to commit to the basic need of sex. A not so long lasting emotional devotion so Tam (and co-writer Tian Koi-Leong's) points are made clear, very well. We are in for a rollercoaster ride that can end up just about anywhere, all wrapped in little to none stylistic excess (again, Tam's effective cuts only stand out in that regard).
It's important to give it some thought whether or not Tam deserves such a long running time and/or attention and it certainly is an argument that After This Our Exile is just a series of despair-vignettes. But closing our eyes towards horrors of the world, be it in the grand scale of things or within this bubble placed in Malaysia he argues is simply wrong and experiencing these adult characters making utterly repulsive decisions IS worthy of attention. Especially so since Tam is terrific at making us sit tight and PAY attention. We're never numbed but in an agreeable way ready for a 2 hour plus challenge that mainly lets us follow the effects on the young boy as it turns out.
Gow Ian Iskander's Boy has been forced to probably witness multiple attempts by his mother to leave the abusive surroundings, be it physical or mentally, and he's received a compelling arc where he clearly tries to embody the glue in order to keep the family together, even through the worst of times. Eventually abandoned by his mother, in a difficult attempt to maintain family balance he stays with the father whose parenting is pretty out of whack. Definitely the most distressing parts of film are the numerous moments where there's such a strain put on the little boy internally as he watches his father's self realization lasting mere seconds at best. As quick as he is to self loathe, Kwok's Shing comes to life again to justify the ways he makes a living (being a pimp briefly at one point) and even when the umpteenth time hits where he promises to turn their lives around, the upright morals gets smothered quickly by the desperation of being poor. Initiative should've still grown out of the situation. We watch in horror and gasp when Boy is taught petty thievery or is almost abandoned totally by his father (who buys him beer, a banana split and for once pats him gently on the head as a goodbye gesture).
Patrick Tam doesn't flinch indeed but doesn't beat us over the head during the picture-esque but suitably plain looking journey lensed by Mark Lee (a genius at creating a natural frame with colourful detail). He's absolutely right to criticize dysfunctional family chemistry the way he does and he very much bring a terrific perception of reality for the centerpiece of the film that is Boy. Anchored strongly by newbie Gow Ian Iskander, he's asked to take a deep dive into challenging acting, which is very much hands on and about communicating through presence and looks. That's the support a director has to embody and especially this one does with his sharp eye on the thoroughly ongoing development of the story. Undoubtedly the best performance in the film but Aaron Kwok's stunning and relentless transformation into Shing was deservedly commended. Of course the story accompanying After This Our Exile needs outbursts and Kwok is certainly noticeable when employing those but he's so alive in the part. Alive in the surroundings created for him and brave to let his pop star status rot to immerse himself into a character that may or may not inspire in the slightest in the long run. Charlie Yeong is equally strong in a small part calling for apathy as much as lack of courage that instead leads to the irrational bravery to deal with the dysfunctional situation. In fact, After This Our Exile is superbly cast in terms of support and minor roles as well, which is why it's hard to say a lot about Qin Hailu and Kelly Lin's appearances in the film as they are characters that fit into the grid of the story, even though they're temporary pit stops for our main subjects only.
Patrick Tam is pretty open about the fact that he's not out to please everyone because not every genre does. He pours his heart and soul into the largely tough watch After This Our Exile is and despite a hefty running time and stretches that appear slow, it seems awfully hard to find anything wrong about his return to Hong Kong cinema. If you don't want to experience this kind of story, you don't have to and Tam won't ever protest against that. His sole demand seems to be to ask an audience to take something (even if it only has to do with mere minutes of his story) with them into their brains, into their hearts or into their conscience. Devoted viewers that are hopefully not apathetic themselves will easily feel in individual ways and being devotees of film presumably too, Patrick Tam's extremely assured, calm handling of the material is hopefully prime material for being hailed. If a hook of a film concerns dreams of bliss, when hurt will stop and what will happen to characters in the midst of this, it will attract initially. After This Our Exile does for its long stay.
Panorama presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Mastered in High Definition and spreading the film over 2 discs, the film receives a transfer that overall does justice to visual intentions (warm being one). Minor wear can be spotted and unfortunately some artifacting. Nothing that detracts a whole lot though.
Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review. Containing both synch sound and post synched dialogue, the Cantonese selection is the intended one.
The English subtitles occasionally contains some grammar- and spelling errors but read well on the whole. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.
The 3rd and final disc of the set contains a nice set of supplements, with thankfully the same subtitle options as the feature.
(Patrick Tam and Law Kar left, Aaron Kwok right)
A Conversation Between Patrick Tam and Film Scholar Law Kar (34 minutes, 9 seconds). Available as a full program or divided into specific sections concerning creation, production and actors, aside from the rather poor recording, this is a worthwhile chat where Tam speaks enthusiastically on a number of topics. Most interesting being that the script is a collaboration with one of his students in Malaysia. There are extensive views on the timeless setting, art- and set direction, Tam's thorough preparation and how After This Our Exile is the film that closest represents his true intentions out of all he's directed. Some scene-specific breakdown concerns the sex scene between Aaron Kwok and Kelly Lin, casting choices are explained, what the working relationship with cinematographer Mark Lee was like, musical intentions and finally, what the core message of the film would be.
With more from the view point of the cast, we go to Exclusive Interview With Aaron Kwok (12 minutes, 38 seconds). Showing a very good, mature grasp on his character, the actor explains his casting process, emotions towards specific scenes and working with his fellow actors. Kwok's anecdotes are fun and while we would've liked to hear more of otherwise published stories about his deep rooted method acting, the program contains enough material of substance.
(Tam on set left while Gow Ian Iskander enjoys a light moment with a fellow kid)
The Making Of After This Our Exile (27 minutes, 16 seconds) doesn't receive the promotional touch but instead acts as mainly a random video diary. The actors are briefly interviewed about their characters but mostly we get a naked look at the repetitious ways of filmmaking and the details in need to be nailed. Director Tam shows frustrations for sure but comes off as working in a constructive way, including towards Gow Ian Iskander. A method that does look sadistic in the way you have to fight to maintain actors emotions. Kids are allowed to be kids though, as other sections shows.
Poster And Photo Galleries (48 images) covers a few poster designs but primarily movie stills of fairly high quality. Theatrical Trailers contains a Hong Kong version obviously cut after the Golden Horse Awards and a rather lame International Version played out against still images only. Director Filmography expectedly lists Patrick Tam's directed works in addition to stints as editor but in a nice touch adds factoids about awards and nominations for each respective project. A 36 page photobook comes with the physical package as well, containing moody, consciously downgraded movie stills.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson