Sunday, July 04, 2010

Exiled - Review

Title; Exiled
Director; Johnnie To
Year; 2006
Starring; Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Nick Cheung, Simon Yam, Suet Lam, Roy Cheung

Set on the island of Macau in 1998 'Exiled' tells the story of five friends who grew up together in the gangs of Hong Kong. One of these five, Wo (Nick Cheung), has been in exile for many years after attempting to assassinate the crime boss of Hong Kong, Boss Fay (Simon Yam), but now Wo has a family and is tired of running, so he moves to Macau to make a new life for himself. Unfourtunatly, Boss Fay has not forgotten Wo's transgressions and sends another of the five friends, Blaze (Anthony Wong), to see Wo dead. However, while Blaze and his partner Fat (Suet Lam) must follow orders and kill their friend Wo, the remaining two friends Tai (Francis Ng) & Cat (Roy Cheung) are intent on protecting him, even if it means going against Boss Fay and becoming exiles themselves. This predicament and the decisions than the five friends must make provide the films intrinsic themes; brotherhood, honour, loyalty and friendship, themes not at all uncommon in the HK action genre.

Likewise, there's a great sense of familiarity across the board here. Actors such as Anthony Wong, Simon Yam and Francis Ng are all veterens of HK action films, and Johnnie To's direction itself recalls the hey-day of HK action with numerous nods to Tsui Hark and John Woo. But despite this film evoking a sense of deja-vu at almost every turn, it's a fantastically paced movie that's all the more better when regarding the sum of it's parts. Anthony Wong & Francis Ng provide stalwart performances as the films two leads and they are supported by a fantastic cast; Suet Lam and Roy Cheung as their stoic partners in crime, Simon Yam as the crazed, bat-shit insane mob boss, Richie Ren as a sharpshooting police sergeant and Eddie Cheung as bizarre deal-broker and pimp. Meanwhile, the setting, cinematography and soundtrack all conspire to create a wonderful backdrop for the convoluted plot. Also, Macau is presented as an idlyic sort of place, always in the shadow of Hong Kong, and the cinematography and setting only help further this idea with many outdoor shots and vibrant yellows and oranges and greens employed throughout. Macau was a Portugese colony for much of it's history, which I believe To alludes to through the films soundtrack which at times sounds almost like a spaghetti western and serves to immediately set 'Exiled' apart from To's previous films and those of his peers, many of which star the same actors.

Overall Johnnie To's 'Exiled' is a film at odds with itself. On one hand it's a stylish, over the top Hong Kong gangster film, on the other it's a melancholy movie about friendship and the past, but for the most part these two sections perfectly compliment each other. Some may find the plot somewhat confusing, but it's brilliantly presented with a veteran cast, some amazing action set-pieces and a few moments of inspired direction. Also, 'Exiled' left me with a good number of things to consider afterwards (for instance; what appeared to be a continuity error actually ended up providing another facet to one of the characters that I had not previousley considered) which is more than I can say for most action films.

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