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Anthony Chau-Sang Wong
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The time is 1998. The setting is Macau. Every living soul jumps at every chance to make quick money before the Portuguese colony ushers in a new era under the Chinese rule. For the jaded hit men, they wonder where this journey will end. Against this backdrop come two hit men from Hong Kong sent to take out a renegade member trying to turn over a new leaf with his wife and newborn baby. They soon find themselves in the throes of a dilemma when two of their former associates also show up, intent on thwarting them at every cost. Written by
I had the fortunate opportunity to see this at the Toronto International Film Festival. Johnnie To and actress Josie Ho came to the first screening at TIFF to present the film. I am afraid To is more comfortably vocal in the interviews on his DVDs.
To begin, the film is not a sequel to The Mission. It is the same general cast with a new actors telling a completely different story with different characters. It is however, in very much in the spirit of The Mission. The good news however is that Exiled rocks. The film starts with a hand knocking on the door. A baby is crying in the background and a woman opens the door. Two men ask for a man named Wo. The woman claims she has never heard of him. The two men, who are assigned to protect Wo, leave. The door is knocking again and another pair of men ask for Wo. The woman claims she has never heard of him once again and shuts the door. The two men have been assigned to kill Wo. The four men meet and wait. Wo pulls in on the street in a truck. The film is done in such dramatic simplicity it does not need translation. And that's a sample of what Exiled is all about. The tension is on for shot one and things move only with a purpose.
These actors all are the character actors of Hong Kong; they usually don't' get lead roles and play supporting roles or lead villains. To uses them to their potential in this. Even though you wouldn't classify any of them as being a star or physically good-looking it is astonishing how much presence each of these actors take up on the screen. There's a part in the film where a police car pulls up to a conflict between the hit men in the film, two of these actors turn around and look at the police car and it gave me goosebumps. Beneath each of these five men who are cold-blooded killers underlies a deep sentimentality and it is felt throughout the film. Between these men, actions speak more than words. Anthony Wong, Lam Suet, Nick Cheung Ka Fai and Roy Cheung play their roles with an underplayed subtle intensity. Francis Ng is between explosive and withheld intensity. The five actors play well together, in the film's dramatic and comedic moments. It's nice to see Simon Yam play a clumsy over-the-top gangster boss after the two Electionfilms. Something to note amongst the actors is Josie Ho as Nick Cheung's wife with a baby which works as the driving force for the entire film. Ho's performance feels real. It is also a surprise because To's films usually are about men and women rarely take a stand but it's nice to see that change now finally. A question asked to the cast at the Venice Film Festival if it was possible that any of the cast members be nominated for acting awards, to which the cast reminded the press that they are an ensemble cast. Each member is just a part of the team and they are working together to reach the same goal. Each member of the team are very good actors in their own right but sadly that makes it harder for each of them to be nominated individually for an award. However in Exiled's case, they do succeed as an ensemble.
The gunfights are phenomenal. I truly believe that even though everyone else have recently caught up; Hong Kong still leads the trend in action film-making. I do not mean that in terms of scale but rather the innovation and effort that goes into these action sequences. What really comes out in the gunfights in Exiled is how closequarters the gunfights actually are. These are multiple gun men in Mexican standoffs shooting at each other closequarters in claustrophobic Macau spaces. At Venice, one of the actors conversed with an American reporter and asked him how gunfights would be set up in Hollywood. The reporter looked back and said, "They wouldn't. There wouldn't set it up like this." I have to say I believe that is true as you literally see the gunpowder flying into the actor's faces.
The film is a film designed to garner more international attention for To it seems but there is nothing wrong with that. If anything, Johnnie To has earned all this; being one of the most consistent HK directors and one of the major reminders of what Hong Kong films are all about. Exiled is not new territory for Johnnie To. It is a combination of all the good elements from Johnnie To films, which include underplayed acting, dormant action set-pieces, empty night spaces, well-fleshed characters, boyish immaturity ^^ and a dark quirky sense of humor. It'll be familiar to fans, but again, Johnnie To has given us enough good films to make this. Exiled hits all those notes but some may say that the film does stray in the second act. I say, it's all in good fun. Hell, it's better.
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