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Exiled (2006) December 1, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Action, Drama, Thriller, 2000s films , 2 comments

Director: Johnny To  Main cast: Anthony Wong; Francis Ng; Roy Cheung; Lam Suet; Simon Yam  Territory: Hong Kong

A group of Triad hitmen arrive at the home of Wo (Nick Cheung) in Macau, assigned to kill him.  After a brief firefight, they sit down to talk things over.  It transpires that Wo knows his would-be killers very well – he was part of their gang and grew up with them.  Blaze (Anthony Wong), Cat (Roy Cheung), Fat (Lam Suet) and Tai (Francis Ng) eventually disregard their orders, much to the annoyance of Boss Fay (Simon Yam), who ordered the hit.

Exiled burst onto the screens in 2006, and was the perfect antidote to the growing trend of style-over-substance, CGI-heavy Hong Kong movies.  What’s more, there are no giggling/pouting pretty boy/girl pop stars here.  Instead, we have a wealth of acting talent headed by the wonderful Anthony Wong, who just seems to get more miserable-looking as he gets older – in this, you’d think the man had never smiled in his life!

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It throws the viewer in at the deep end right from the start.  One minute Blaze and company are shooting at Wo and the next minute Wo’s cooking them all a meal - during which Blaze finds a stray bullet in his tea, leading to much laughter amongst the gang.  But the film drips information on a regular basis and pretty soon you know what’s going on as long as you’re prepared to join the dots occasionally.

It quickly becomes apparent that Boss Fay (Simon Yam in his default mode) is the real villain of the piece, and the only character without any redeeming features.  After a particularly exciting gunfight with Fay, Blaze’s life is saved by Wo, but the latter is injured and has to go to an “underground clinic” – a surgery run by a quack but the only place a Triad member can be treated without having to answer some serious questions.  This leads to an unfortunate meeting that you should see coming but don’t, in a scene that starts off pretty humorously and ends in more gunplay and a shocking conclusion.

Johnny To nods to the spaghetti western at various times and there’s even a scene that’s reminiscent of Leone’s For a Few Dollars More, but it’s film noir that he seems to be mainly aiming for.  Later in the film we have some outdoor scenes filmed in a very unusual, almost surreal, way.  It’s here that we encounter Chan (Richie Ren), the sharpshooting cop guarding a cache of gold, and the film works itself up to the finale.

The whole package is wonderful – the story, the characters, the action, everything.  It also has a great soundtrack that matches the tone of the film perfectly.  The only fly in the ointment is some horribly invasive product placement and a pretty pointless appearance by ineffective cop Shan (Hui Siu-Hung) who is literally counting the hours until his retirement.  But these are small criticisms compared to the engrossing and uplifting experience of watching a film that bucks the trend of Hong Kong films and delivers something essential.  It’s probably not a coincidence that the film is set in the 90s, and stylistically feels from that period.  It does have a couple of CGI shots, but on the whole seems very organic and natural and very much like the way Hong Kong films used to be made before the digital age.  The setting of the very European-looking Macau over Hong Kong is also a great choice, and some of the locations are brilliantly atmospheric. 

Exiled is an essential viewing experience and a must-see for even the most casual fan of the genre.

Lam Suet-o-meter: Very high!  In fact, one of the most prominent roles I’ve seen him in.  Rejoice!

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