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Theatrical Review: Exiled (July 2007)
December 10th, 2007 12:12AM

Editor's Note: This misplaced theatrical pre-release review of the feature film EXILED was writtern by Judge Adam Arseneau back on July 1, 2007

The Charge
Brotherhood, honor, loyalty, assassination--which one is the strongest?

Opening Statement
As directors go, Johnnie To is hot these days. His work has been gaining more and more mainstream attention in North America, his films are in heavy rotation in festivals, and more and more critics are raving about his work. But lately, the man's been hitting home run after home run. His Triad crime films Election and Election 2 have been garnering rave reviews, recognized as some of his strongest work in years.

Now, Exiled, To's newest film completes the hat-trick as a sharp and stylish crime film, one that stays true to its Hong Kong action roots while bending genres like a contortionist.

Facts of the Case
The year is 1998. Like Hong Kong, the Chinese region of Macau is set to be transferred to the People's Republic of China in a few short months, and every person in Macau is desperately trying to make as much money as possible before the regime change.

In the midst of the chaos, Wo (Nick Cheung, Breaking News), a renegade Triad member tries to make a clean start with his wife and newborn baby in Macau, despite having been exiled from the region by his organization. This peace is shattered the moment that Fat (Lam Suet, Kung Fu Hustle) and Blaze (Anthony Wong, Infernal Affairs), two hitmen show up at the front door looking to take Wo out of the picture as punishment for abandoning his boss and then returning. Things complicate further when two additional hitmen, Cat (Roy Cheung, Infernal Affairs II) and Tai (Francis Ng, Infernal Affairs II) show up, coming to the rescue of Wo!

One thing their boss didn't take into consideration, however, is how all five men are good childhood friends. Business has suddenly become at odds with personal lives, and when the dust settles, the friends suddenly realize they need to answer some hard questions as to their own lives and futures in the Triad. Jaded and disillusioned, they find strength in numbers and prepare to set off on a reckless journey of wild abandon--a path running completely at odds with their old Triad boss!

The Evidence
Fans of Johnnie To's The Mission will no doubt see Exiled as a spiritual sequel of sorts; the film revisits many of the same themes of Triad brotherhood and loyalty as well as reuniting Hong Kong actors Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, and Simon Yam. They aren't really sequels, mind you; the characters they portray are not the same. Instead, Exiled feels like a jazz riff, a remix of similar devices and materials put forth fresh and linked thematically, rather than by plot. Director To enjoys making the rough-and-tumble high-octane Triad action films that put Hong Kong cinema on the map, adding dashes of comedy, adventure, romance, and slapstick to his work. He reaches across genres, tossing pinches into his cinematic cauldron like a mad scientist.

The steamy exotic locale of Macau is as unique, cosmopolitan, and multi-influenced as Exiled itself. For those not down with their geography, Macau is one of two special administrative regions of China, the other being Hong Kong. Settled by the Portuguese in the 16th century, it was the oldest European colony in China until 1999, when like its British brother, control of the tiny region was transferred to the People's Republic of China. Macau culture and heritage is a unique blend of Portuguese and Chinese traditions, foods, religions, architecture, and music--in short, the perfect place to set a Johnnie To film. After all, To is a filmmaker who blends numerous styles into his Hong Kong-style crime films, borrowing elements of comedy, romance, slapstick, satire, and social criticism into his work. What better place to set Exiled than in a country itself such a unique blend of various flavors and styles, cultures and influences?

Like a love letter to the genre itself, Exiled is a film enamored with the romanticism of the Hong Kong action film, of notions of brotherhood and allegiances, of honor amongst thieves even at the expense of one's life. The machismo, the brotherly love, the loyalty aspects are all ramped up to 11 in Exiled, almost to the point of self-parody, putting into play a fantastic scenario of loyalties and double-crossings that would put a Shakespearian tragedy to shame. Ironically, Exiled's best moments come in deflating the very expectations the film fetishizes. Where genre tradition insists a gunfight break out, the protagonists sit down and have a friendly meal together. Then at a totally unexpected moment, the bullets fly like lead raindrops. Where one expects tension and high drama, the film takes an almost exorbitant amount of time relaxing and stretching its legs, wandering through good-natured aimless banter and casual moments between characters. Then, suddenly, a whole bunch of people end up dead. Exiled loves having fun with its audience, so much so that all you can do is grin foolishly, hang on, and enjoy the ride. If such a thing even existed, Exiled could very well a shining example of postmodern Hong Kong action cinema.

The extremely recognizable cast of action staples hammers their roles home with precision, having polished and perfected the art in dozens of earlier films.

The cinematography is stylish, exerting both restraint and excess throughout the film as needed. The color scheme, a muted shade of reds and browns highlights the exotic locale, with gunfights often taking place in heavy shadow and grainy bullet time. Hong Kong cinema can be hit-or-miss in the audio/video presentation, but Exiled looks smart on the big screen, with well-translated subtitles.

The Rebuttal Witnesses
With so much style and homage and eroticizing of Hong Kong clichés, common sense gets left behind before the credits even start. Exiled doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense from a traditional narrative standpoint--a reoccurring theme in To's work--and might drive more literal minds to frustration. This is a film where you check your coat and common sense at the door. Don't worry; they'll be waiting for you when the credits roll.

Closing Statement
When I attended the Toronto Film Festival screening of Exiled last year, To got a standing ovation from the audience, and with good reason. Sharp and polished, Exiled is a joyous ride from start to finish, blending comedy, drama, and action cliches together with deft precision and effortless exuberance.

Exiled opens in New York in August. Keep an eye out for it in your theaters.

The Verdict
This is Johnnie To's best work in years. Not guilty.

EDITOR: jstewart
TITLE: Exiled
JUDGE: aarseneau
OPENING DATE: 2007-08-24
STUDIO: Magnolia Pictures

SCALES OF JUSTICE
VIDEO: 87
AUDIO: 85
ACTING: 89
STORY: 85
JUDGMENT: 89

RUN TIME: 110 min
RELEASE YEAR: 2006
MPAA RATING: R

ACCOMPLICES:
IMDB


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