Exiled (2006)

Produced & directed by: Johnnie To
Written by: Szeto Kam-Yuen, Yip Tin-Shing & Milkyway Creative Team
Starring: Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Nick Cheung, Josie Ho, Roy Cheung, Lam Suet, Gordon Lam, Eddie Cheung, Ellen Chan, Hui Siu-Hung & Simon Yam

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2007:
Best Picture
Best Director (Johnnie To)
Best Cinematography (Cheng Siu-Keung)
Best Editing (David Richardson)

Awards at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2006:
Best Director (Johnnie To)
Film Of Merit

Awards at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2006:
Best Action Choreography (Wong Chi-Wai & Ling Chun-Ping)
Audience Award

Nominations at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2006:
Best Picture
Best Director (Johnnie To)
Best Editing (David Richardson)

So what if it's the same group of guys and gals who happen to produce the best Hong Kong cinema on the planet right now! There are profiles such as Andy Lau that are pushing to nurture new young talent but veteran Johnnie To shows no signs of growing tired of his veteran status or slowing down to let it rest in its development. A seemingly endless well of creative style while carrying concerns for Hong Kong and its neighboring areas, the focus in this what seems (but isn't) like a follow-up of sorts to To's (and Milkyway Image's) defining classic The Mission takes place towards the end of the millennium. In 1998 to be specific, during the time leading up to the Portuguese colony Macau being handed over to Mainland Chinese ruling. Featuring characters being different and acting different compared to Edmond Pang's Isabella that was set at the same time, the Milkyway tradition as initiated by To remains fully on fire via their latest excursion Exiled.

Four assassins (Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Roy Cheung and Lam Suet) are out to erase Wo (Nick Cheung) as per Boss Fay's (Simon Yam) request. Choosing to give their brother Wo a chance to help along in claiming some extra rewards from Macau and for his family before the handover, the killers make the mistake of favouring brotherhood over loyalty towards the big boss. This triggers bloodshed...

Certainly echoing ideas of loyalty over objectives as seen in The Mission, that of course isn't strictly unique for To's 1999 classic but are characteristics of multiple genres. Male bonding, brotherhood, loyalty...all written in blood is the name of the tune here in combination with Johnnie's rightly touted skill for injecting wild, off-beat touches that logically have no place yet do play into the mentioned themes in a very crucial manner. Hong Kong cinema has not acted logically through the years in this regard but a seasoned pro like To gleefully breaks the rules of cinema for his own enjoyment and for the portrayal of brotherhood. Have we heard this tune way too many times already as Milkyway's 10+ history has performed plentiful of these shenanigans already? Logically the answer would be yes but truthfully, a big balls grabbing no should be heard.

What's admirable about To is that he never ever smoothly invited any viewer into his particular way of working cinema. It was always there to be taken, accepted or despised and Exiled is no different. Moving through its Western genre esthetics, from gunplay and to silliness such as the hitmen furnishing an apartment in order to have a sit down with their designated target Brother Wo, if you are into reality, tear your ticket now. If you're into out of place/thematically sound oddities from a bit of a master of deadpan behaviour, you're in luck and To continues to drive his train this way.

Mixing its moods freely in an absorbing way, the foursome will go on some fairly grand adventures through the Macau setting, a place devoid of most real people (basically one bumbling cop is still left, Hui Siu-Hung's character, but he's just waiting for the handover deadline as it's no use fighting crime anymore), the symbolism connected to the real atmosphere of Macau of its time is partly there for entertainment value and partly speaks of the lawlessness of a place in transition towards an uncertain future (as are our main characters, being EXILED. Get it?). The land is a grab bag but one where tuned character traits within the gangster world still has a place.

While To never makes any notion mentioned truly surprising, the journey taken is thoroughly great because he has the finger on the pulse of style. Choosing to go all out prolonged a la The Mission in his buildups, injecting bonding via coin flips and general abusive, lighthearted male behaviour amongst themselves, when bullets do fly, he has changed his tac since 1999 slightly by being quite extensively acrobatic in the creation of the gunplay. In slow motion, amongst bloodshed and flowing curtains, To goes overhead, messy and cool on us while still never forgetting his goal to break rules and moods whenever he feels like it. A laugh is never far away, emotions consciously never really injected because this isn't meant to be heartfelt cinema. It's male stuff, even though the role of a woman and newly created life marks a twist in the otherwise stoic frame.

Re-uniting the coolest cast on earth, not much is said about the characters of Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Roy Cheung and Lam Suet but they are a terrific foursome of destruction and mentioned, clichéd gangster movie traits sprinkled about the place the To-way. To likes his profiles, his actors to appear lit only partially but there's no better way then than to cast distinct ones to get that intention through. Anthony and Francis dominate in similar manner to The Mission, with Wong playing the more divided character of the two. Saying little, building on depth through dead looks, expressions, acts and emotions, his immersing act flanked by Ng's loud-mouthed, 110% loyal blood brother is an outstanding centerpiece to Exiled. With the automatic watchmen in the form of Roy Cheung and Lam Suet's characters, they're perfect actors to be molded by To for whatever excursion, stylistically or thematically, he takes them on. Simon Yam gives us his best flamboyance and over the top big boss behaviour, a performer able to rely on cool presence as well. Josie Ho has a challenge to actually get noticed here but representing a surprise story element, she comes through with an in-tune performance, not being part of the usual atmosphere and To's usual direction. What comes out is a fresh dimension to the cinema of Johnnie To.

Give him a couple of statuettes and Johnnie To won't be either discouraged or encouraged. He's single handedly making way for Hong Kong cinema internationally but via his own ways and rules. His best art has never been about letting everyone accept the wildness of it but enough do in order for him to plow a unique path that always represented a continuation of John Woo's or even Chang Cheh's influence but also something those men never had in mind to bring. Speaking fairly well of political themes, characters but mostly creating Exiled as an excuse to enhance distinctly respectable traits of gangsters in an off-beat fashion, we say we're pleased once more and please come again, Mr. To.

The DVD:

Mega Star presents the film in an aspect ratio of 2.32:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Crystal clear and damage free, there's nothing seemingly visible to complain about here.

Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Surround EX 5.1, Cantonese DTS ES 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.

The English subtitles read well and come with no distracting errors. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Shame Panorama couldn't be involved in the production of this dvd because back at Media Asia and Mega Star, interest in creating substantial extras with English subtitles rarely rears its head. The weak package offers 2 trailers followed by a a 12 minute, 1 second Making of (that is also available in 7 shorter edits). Standard program but seeing the joyous interaction between the actors, footage of Nick Cheung performing his own fire stunt, rehearsals and shooting of the gunplay action is amusing enough to warrant one viewing.

Behind The Scene (6 minutes, 21 seconds) is more clearly viewable behind the scenes footage in comparison to the glimpses the Making of offers up but it's still as tightly edited as in the mentioned program. Basically the same highlights also.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson