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After This Our Exile
   |     review    |     notes     |     awards     |

(left) Charlie Young and Aaron Kwok, and (right) Goum Ian Iskandar.
Chinese: 父子  
Year: 2006
Director: Patrick Tam Ka-Ming
Producer: Chiu Li-Kuang, Eric Tsang Chi-Wai
Writer: Patrick Tam Ka-Ming, Tian Kai-Leong
Cast: Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing, Charlie Young Choi-Nei, Goum Ian Iskandar (Ng King-To), Kelly Lin, Valen Hsu, Qin Hailu, Tsui Tin-Yau, Faith Yeung, Qin Hao, Lester Chan Chit-Man
  The Skinny: After This Our Exile is surprisingly engaging for an art film, and is directed with an almost spellbinding precision. Director Patrick Tam makes a remarkable return to the director's chair. Aaron Kwok isn't bad, either. Possibly 2006's most emotional and compelling Hong Kong film.
by Kozo:

Aaron Kwok stars as Shing, a gone-to-seed, deep-in-debt father whose family has fallen apart - he just doesn't know it yet. His wife Lin (Charlie Young) plans on leaving him, and though her initial attempt is thwarted by son Lok-Yun (Goum Ian Iskandar), she's soon able to escape her relationship with Shing. Nobody would blame her for running away, as Shing is a class-A lout; he's a man who publicly embarrasses his wife and even hits her, finally locking her up to prevent her from leaving. Aside from being abused, Lin has also been responsible for paying Shing's gambling debts, and is seeing another man on the side. Once she sees her chance, she bolts, leaving Shing and Lok-Yun alone. After a full-on display of expected emotions, including anger, denial, frustration, and a little pathetic weeping, Shing must decide what to do next. He's lost his job, the loan sharks are after him to pay up, and he's nearly penniless. Luckily he still has his son's love and filial loyalty. But with each passing day of Shing's grossly unrepentant deadbeat status, that bond of blood threatens to become poisonous.

The Chinese title of After This Our Exile means "Father and Son", and despite the presence of Charlie Young, this is indeed their story. As the besieged Lin, Young is sympathetic during her initial scenes of domestic confinement, but she's out of the picture fairly soon, leaving the father and son to struggle together, and sometimes apart. Shing and son eventually slip into a desperate sort of existence, slowly sinking despite the father's meager attempts at climbing back up. Watching the pair fuddle about can be frustrating; Shing avoids the obvious method of getting back on his feet (duh, get a job), and instead resorts to shadier schemes, like minor theft, plus pimping out a lonely prostitute (Kelly Lin) who's staying at the same transient inn as the father-son pair. Shing finds little success, however, and the effect that it ultimately has on his son is surprising and even powerful. Young actor Goum Ian Iskandar gives a genuinely moving performance as the unfortunate Lok-Yun, whose only real crime is one of blood relation. Lok-Yun is too innocent to see that the road he and his father travel may lead to ruin, and by the time he realizes, it may be too late. Ultimately, the father and son may scar each other permanently.

Directed by long-absent Hong Kong New Wave director Patrick Tam, After This Our Exile is deceptively simple, possessing of only a bare bones plot and numerous scenes that seem more like repetition than plot development. And yet, the whole unfolds in an engaging manner, using exacting pacing, performances, and direction to spin a surprisingly effective tale of family ties gone wrong. Tam refuses to judge his unfortunate characters, letting their actions and emotions speak for themselves. Shing and Lin's relationship is emotionally exhausting and ugly, yet recognizable and even pathetic affection exists despite their disintegrated lives. The relationship between father and son is even more complex and compelling. Though Shing is more-or-less a complete creep, sympathy does manage to sneak in, especially because the son remains so hopeful that they'll make it through their trials. It's affecting stuff, as our sympathy for the characters shifts from time to time. As the film wears on, hope and sympathy rise and fall as each character makes one unfortunate decision after the next. Ultimately, there's little to be joyful about, but the journey surprises in its emotional power.

Aaron Kwok recently won Best Actor for his performance in After This Our Exile, marking the second time in two years that the formerly floppy-haired popstar has managed unexpected critical acclaim. The acclaim was harder to fathom for Divergence, where Kwok's emotional gravitas bordered on hammy, but for After This Our Exile, the actor gives a complete performance, successfully making his character into a real and even recognizable individual. Kwok has matured beyond playing cute kids and brooding prettyboys, and his decision to take on the role of a frighteningly inept father is to be commended. The performance's only debit may be that the character is perhaps written too broadly, openly revealing so many sides of the same man that he ends up bordering on bipolar. But Kwok comes through, filling his character with acute rage and the kind of blind self-delusion one can easily see in the people around them every day. For Kwok, this is brave, uncharted territory. Message to Aaron Kwok: we will no longer hold Millionaire Cop against you.

But heaping sizable praise on Kwok is still a but much, because After This Our Exile isn't Aaron Kwok's show, it's director Patrick Tam's. Returning to the director's chair for the first time since 1989's My Heart is That Eternal Rose, Tam delivers perhaps the most precise and exacting work of any Hong Kong director this year. The film eschews exposition and action for simmering characters and little movement, yet something vital seems to be happening in every shot or frame. Tam only plays the star director during a few key scenes, generally opting for canny camera placement and precise editing over showy directorial flourishes. When the latter moments do occur they can be jarring in their forced dissonance, but for the most part Tam keeps a lid on things, letting the audience find their way into the picture on their own. Results may vary; some may be drawn in by Tam's willingness to let the film breathe, while others may find his hands-off approach to be unbearably boring. This is understandable, as the film does not force itself upon the audience, and instead asks them to absorb what's presented to them. The highest-grossing film in Hong Kong for 2006 was Pirates of the Caribbean 2 - the very definition of a force-fed cinema experience - so most Hong Kong people probably skipped or would choose to skip After This Our Exile. Too bad; they're missing a great movie.

If After This Our Exile has any faults, it may be that the screenplay is perhaps too focused on its themes, and less on the sort of reality that would bring it greater credibility. The film delivers tremendous amounts of character and emotion, but the message here is not given to cinematic romanticism. After putting the audience through a dark emotional experience, the film regroups for a bittersweet finish - a move that works narratively, but almost seems disingenuous considering all that came before. Some characters lose credibility as the film progresses, some are introduced and then dropped, while others experience change that isn't fully explained by the passage of time. Too much seems omitted (though that may be the fault of the film's truncated 2-hour theatrical cut), which feels like an extra debit since the film uses repetition to reinforce its themes. The result is surprising and worthwhile, though not really beyond expectation, ultimately bringing the film in beneath classic status. Despite the screenplay's patience and insight, the situations and characters don't entirely measure up to the film's direction and production.

That said, the direction and production shore things up tremendously; obvious attention has been paid to even the smallest details, with high marks given to Mark Lee's golden cinematography and the gorgeously mundane Malaysia setting. Patrick Tam shows an amazing control over his material, taking a rather simple script and concept (take one bad family, and watch them disintegrate) and spinning cinematic gold. Tam gives the film class and power; his work here easily stands among the more impressive this year from a Hong Kong filmmaker (with perhaps only Johnnie To's work on Election 2 surpassing him). It's hard to believe that Tam couldn't secure a directing nomination at the Golden Horse Awards. After This Our Exile won Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor (for Goum Ian Iskandar), and Tam didn't even get nominated for Best Director! The Golden Horse Awards have been rather suspect with some of their choices in recent years (Kwok's win for Divergence is only one); you can chalk up Tam's snub as another unfathomable decision made by whoever is running the show at the Golden Horses. At least their choice for this year's Best Picture has some merit. (Kozo 2006)

Notes: This review is based on the 120-minute Hong Kong theatrical cut of After This Our Exile, which exists because the distributors were somewhat leery over Patrick Tam's 160 minute cut.
The first DVD release of After This Our Exile is sadly not the 160-minute Director's Cute, but the 120-minute theatrical version. Reportedly, the Director's Cut will get a later release, which seems likely as the distributor, Panorama, also released special editions of NANA and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance after initial bare-bones versions.
The director's cut of After This Our Exile finally arrived on DVD in May of 2007. The 3-DVD set features the film spread across 2 DVDs, reportedly due to a High Definition transfer that requires two DVD-9 discs to be used intead of one. The third disc contains numerous extras.

26th Hong Kong Film Awards
• Winner - Best Picture
• Winner - Best Director (Patrick Tam Ka-Ming)
• Winner - Best Supporting Actor (Goum Ian Iskandar)
• Winner - Best New Artist (Goum Ian Iskandar)
• Winner - Best Original Screenplay (Patrick Tam Ka-Ming, Tian Kai-Leong)
• Nomination - Best Actor (Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing)
• Nomination - Best Supporting Actress (Kelly Lin)
• Nomination - Best Cinematography (Mark Lee Ping-Ban)
• Nomination - Best Editing (Patrick Tam Ka-Ming)
• Nomination - Best Art Direction (Patrick Tam Ka-Ming, Cyrus Ho Kim-Kung)
43rd Golden Horse Awards
• Winner - Best Picture
• Winner - Best Actor (Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing)
• Winner - Best Supporting Actor (Goum Ian Iskandar)
• Nomination - Best New Artist (Goum Ian Iskandar)
• Nomination - Best Original Screenplay (Patrick Tam Ka-Ming, Tian Kai-Leong)
• Nomination - Best Cinematography (Mark Lee Ping-Ban)
• Nomination - Best Make-up and Costume Design (Patrick Tam Ka-Ming, Tu Hsu-Chung)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
3-DVD Director's Cut Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen