Site Features
- Asian Film Awards
- Site Recommendations

- Reader Poll Results

- The Sponsor Page
- The FAQ Page
 
support this site by shopping at
Click to visit YesAsia.com
Asian Blu-ray discs at YesAsia.com
 
 
 
 
 
 
Exiled
  |     review    |     notes     |     awards     |  


Francis Ng, Roy Cheung, Anthony Wong, and Lam Suet in Exiled.
Chinese: 放.逐
Year: 2006  
Director: Johnnie To Kei-Fung  
Producer: Johnnie To Kei-Fung  
Writer: Szeto Kam-Yuen, Yip Tin-Shing, Milkyway Creative Team
Cast: Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Francis Ng Chun-Yu, Nick Cheung Ka-Fai, Josie Ho Chiu-Yi, Lam Suet, Roy Cheung Yiu-Yeung, Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Richie Ren, Eddie Cheung Siu-Fai, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, Hui Siu-Hung, Ellen Chan Ar-Lun, Tam Ping-Man, Wong Wah-Ho
The Skinny: It's the Milkyway Film fan's dream - and Johnnie To seems to know it. For the director, Exiled is a lateral move, delivering a predictable and even pandering experience. However, the film also delivers what every longtime Milkyway fan is probably looking for, and it does so with a gusto that's exciting and exhilarating. Frankly, this movie may be review-proof.
 
  Review
by Kozo:

Exiled is a hard film to review. Full of director Johnnie To's pet themes, actors, and iconography, Exiled could justifiably be called the wet dream of Milkyway Film fanboys worldwide. Fans jonesing for the glory days of The Mission and A Hero Never Dies are sure to get off on the hard-boiled characters, copious gunplay, and barely-contained homoeroticism that To squeezes into this long-awaited gangland thriller. Frankly, those fans are right to be so damn excited; Exiled is topnotch Hong Kong Cinema, taking much of what international fans define as "Hong Kong Cinema" and packing it into a polished, award-worthy package presented on a golden platter with the initials J.T. carved into it. Because Exiled packs so much audience love into its widescreen frame, actually criticizing it can make a person feel downright guilty. Unfortunately, that's what this review does from time to time. We apologize in advance.

The big news on Exiled is it reassembles the cast from To's 1999 classic, The Mission. Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Roy Cheung, and Lam Suet return playing characters who resemble their respective parts from The Mission, though early on we learn that they're clearly different guys. In The Mission, the four guys shared some acquaintances, but they largely met (along with Jackie Lui, a no-show in Exiled) on their assignment; in Exiled, they're revealed to be longtime buddies. The four guys originally joined the triad together along with Wo (Nick Cheung), who had to go into hiding after a botched assassination attempt on Boss Fay (Simon Yam). Wo has since returned, setting up residence in Macau along with his wife Jin (Josie Ho), and their newborn son. But Fay still holds a raging grudge, and dispatches Wo's old buddies Blaze (Anthony Wong) and Fat (Lam Suet) to do the deed. Opposing the two are old friends Tai (Francis Ng) and Cat (Roy Cheung). Wo once took the rap for Tai, so Tai won't let Blaze off Wo. When the two pairs of triad enforcers meet up, things are bound to get tense. Right?

Maybe. The two pairs of former triad pals great each other with warm familiarity, plus the recognition that they'll be going against each other to fulfill their jiang hu duty. When Wo does show up, an impressive two-on-one gunfight ensues, consisting of slow-motion gunplay, deafening sound design, and more Mexican standoffs than a John Woo movie. Then...it's time to eat! Nobody dies (it's only the first ten minutes of the movie), and soon the five former-and-now-current friends are reminiscing about their old days over a fine home-cooked meal.

Joining them is a rattled Jin, who can't grasp the "my enemy is my friend is my enemy" paradox of these veteran triad types - but that's okay because she's a girl. Exiled presents a man's world, and in this macho meeting of brawny male types, men can be friends and enemies simultaneously. Everyone's got a job to do and everyone knows it; better to have a good time before getting down to business and shooting each other. Food first, fight later. But the group decides to grant Wo's final wish (securing money for Jin and the baby), and opt to delay their fighting even further. In between, they smoke, drink, and display manly affection for one another. Clearly, being a macho gangster type rules.

Well, it does in a Johnnie To movie, anyway. Exiled recalls the homoerotic gangster brotherhood of A Hero Never Dies, which featured Leon Lai and Lau Ching-Wan as dueling hitmen who drink together with the knowledge that the following day they'll be aiming for each other's heads with semi-automatic weapons. Both guys had girlfriends, but it was really the unspoken honor between men that got their juices flowing. The Exiled guys are the same, meaning they'll live and die for one another, and can grasp their own, and each other's thinking with almost telepathic understanding. These are honorable guys who won't hold a grudge if they're assigned to kill one another because hey, gangland respect is everything.

However, if that respect isn't returned, then watch out. Eventually Boss Fay rubs the foursome the wrong way, which is bad news for anyone looking to escape a bullet in the head. When circumstances place Blaze, Tai, Cat, and Fat on the same side, they react like some sort of well-oiled gunplay machine. Johnnie To uses stillness and calm to offset his slow motion bullet opera set pieces. He stages each forthcoming action sequence meticulously, setting each player into position before sudden guns-blazing chaos erupts. The sequences aren't as much choreographed as they are unleashed, with rooms suddenly filling with point blank, in-your-face bullet action. Frankly, in most of the film's gunplay sequences its a wonder that everyone isn't instantly killed.

But hey, that's movie magic. In some scenes, nobody is hit, and in others, everybody and their brother can take a trillion bullets without dying instantly. Gunplay purists looking to poke holes in Exiled would have an easy time here, as many characters seem to go unscathed simply because the script says it's not their time yet. Still, Exiled works spectacularly for the masses, though that's probably because it was built for a prefabricated group of Johnnie To followers who know exactly what they want - and what they want looks, smells, and sounds just like Exiled. To delivers plenty of familiar stuff here. Macho, no-nonsense leads? Check. Quirky supporting characters? Check. Deadpan absurdities? Check. Ultra-cool posturing by men in awesome coats? Check. Emasculated comic relief? Check. An over-the-top Simon Yam? Check. If Exiled seems familiar that's because it is familiar. It's the Greatest Hits of Johnnie To, delivered in a single swell-looking and sounding movie that plays up the iconic presence of its actors and its director and uses them as cinema shorthand. Exiled isn't really a sequel, but like a sequel, it leans heavily on audience familiarity.

The negative is that the macho coolness can become predictable. Like many a Milkyway production, Exiled features a spare narrative that efficiently dispenses all its information in necessary doses. Given the iconic nature of the characters and the few narrative options presented to them, there are ultimately few surprises in the choices they make. The film does have some fun with the characters' aimlessness, having them resort to flipping a coin when their plans break down, but even then the film heads in an expected, and frequently unrealistic direction. Reality is hard to come by in Exiled because it's usually swept under the rug; the motivations of some characters are simplistic and obviously symbolic (everybody is apparently seeking a "home"), and some things seem to happen only for the coolness factor.

The Mission was so successful because it actually developed while we were watching it; the film drew the audience into its own particular jiang hu, and brotherhood was formed as the audience witnessed. In Exiled, brotherhood is a given, and the audience understands the film's particular world because, having seen To's previous works, we're already supposed to. Johnnie To really makes himself known here, imbuing characters and situations with enough too-cool iconography and obvious sentimentality that it becomes clear who the real star of the film is: Johnnie To, himself. If the director had inserted himself into one of the many male-bonding sequences of the men hugging and slapping each other on the back, it would oddly feel appropriate.

In some ways, Exiled feels like Johnnie To's 2046. Wong Kar-Wai created 2046 after his international breakthrough In the Mood for Love, and 2046 seemed to play to his international audience by giving them a mishmash of familiar Wong Kar-Wai actors and ideas. In the end, 2046 was a gorgeous, immersive, and predictable exercise in Wong Kar-Wai theme and technique. Similarly, Johnnie To's international reputation has reached its peak, with his films now playing Cannes, Venice, and Toronto. This is opposed to his previous venue: your DVD player and television set, with an assist from either Universe Laser or Mei Ah Entertainment. Exiled seems to pick and choose from the director's previous work, mixing the lyrical sentimentality of Throwdown, the over-the-top heroism of A Hero Never Dies, the casual brotherhood of The Mission, and even the barely-disguised politics of Election 2 into one slick, audience-friendly gangster film that entertains and enthralls, but rarely challenges or surprises. Yeah, To is providing what the audience wants, but at a certain point, Exiled's willingness to please starts to feel like pandering.

However, the above is extreme nitpicking, and if the biggest fault of Exiled is simply that it isn't as good as The Mission, then we're probably expecting too much. If one approaches Exiled as a fan of Hong Kong Cinema and Johnnie To in particular, then there's only one way to say it: Exiled rocks. The gunplay is exciting, the themes familiar and resonant, and the actors insanely charismatic, with most of them (save perhaps Simon Yam, who's pointedly over-the-top) adjusting their performances to the film's particular cadence. Anthony Wong and Nick Cheung underplay their roles well, and Francis Ng displays a fine balance of explosive anger and controlled emotion. Roy Cheung and Lam Suet turn in charismatic support, as does Richie Ren, who's so cool in his supporting role that he should get his own movie. However, despite the strong presence of the male actors, it may be Josie Ho who essays the film's most pivotal character, and she does so with a humanity that flies in the face of all the macho posturing going on around her. The male characters are mainly genre types, and don't seem to change as the film progresses. Ultimately, it's Ho's character and her infant son who drive the film to its blood-stained close - which is somewhat of a departure from the usually male-focused To.

Johnnie To also has fun mixing his genres. In a fun stylistic and narrative choice, Exiled is set in 1999 Macau, right before the handover to China. The time is famed historically for its lawlessness, and To plays that up by including comically ineffectual cops, and gangsters who basically flaunt their ownership of the region. Given the too-cool gunfighters, their self-created and maintained code of brotherhood, and the portrayal of Macau as a lawless region ripe for the plucking, Exiled becomes less a Hong Kong triad movie and more of an Asia-set western, made complete by Guy Zerafa's strings and guitar score, and motifs and set pieces that would actually play better in an Old West setting. One character even plays a harmonica while sitting next to a campfire. If everyone carried six-shooters and wore cowboy hats while tooling around Exiled's Macau, it might feel only slightly out of place.

The above innovations aside, Exiled does possess a "been there, done that" feel, with the biggest quibble being that Johnnie To is perhaps better than this. The excitement in watching To's films throughout the late 90's and early 2000's came from seeing him tweak genre conventions and developing his own unique cinematic language, and with Exiled the director doesn't move forward as much as move sideways. This is especially noticeable after the one-two punch of Election 1 and 2; taken together, the two films arguably represent the height of Johnnie To's filmmaking artistry. Exiled really doesn't build on that, and sometimes seems to be treading on too much familiar territory. If someone walks into the film expecting a true leap forward from Johnnie To, they may be disappointed. A Greatest Hits package sure seems cool, but it still amounts to something you've seen or heard before.

Still, Johnnie To deserves to make movies that he likes, and it's clear from the loving attention given to Exiled that the director likes these kinds of movies just as much as his fans do. Exiled is a technical knockout, and should be remembered come awards time for cinematography, score, art direction, and probably uber-coolness - if someone actually gave out an award for that. So yeah, we probably shouldn't be complaining that much. Johnnie To seems to recycle for Exiled, but so what? Knocking Exiled for pandering to a specific audience is like throwing away a candy bar because it tastes good; you know it's good and you know you'll like it, so why not just eat it? With that in mind, we're sorry that we spent time criticizing Exiled at all, because really, we liked the movie just as much as you did, or probably will. With Exiled, Johnnie To has given his faithful fans a gift, complete with bullet-ridded wrapping paper and bloodstained, personally-addressed card. We'd be ungrateful bastards if we didn't enjoy it. (Kozo 2006)

 
Notes: Exiled contains one jarring cut, of a handshake between two characters. Reportedly, the cut was made because a triad handshake was going down between the characters, which Johnnie To has denied. The censors have taken issue, claming that a Category III-level handshake was occurring. To make everyone happy, the scene was trimmed, and the movie is now rated IIB. Nonetheless, the film is still pretty good.
• The DVD from Mega Star restores the missing triad handshake. Thus, the film has been re-rated Category III.
• If you reached this portion of the page, then you really are a glutton for punishment. If this site can accomplish anything in 2007, it's getting its writers to write shorter reviews, or at least say the same amount in fewer words. Brevity and conciseness are actual writing skills, and someone around here could use them.
Awards: 43rd Golden Horse Awards
Nomination - Best Picture
• Nomination - Best Director (Johnnie To Kei-Fung)
• Nomination - Best Editing (David Richardson)
• Nomination - Best Action (Ling Chun-Pong, Wong Chi-Wai)

Availability:

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Media Asia
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS ES
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
Uncut (1 minute restored), Various Extras
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

   
 
 
LoveHKFilm.com Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen