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(left) Annie Liu, and (right) Maggie Siu and Simon Yam in Exodus.
Chinese: 出埃及記  
Year: 2007
Director: Pang Ho-Cheung
Writer: Pang Ho-Cheung, GC Goo Bi, Jimmy Wan Chi-Man
Cast: Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Annie Liu, Nick Cheung Ka-Fai, Irene Wan Pik-Ha, Candace Yu On-On, Jim Chim Sui-Man, Sin Lap-Man, Gordon Lam Ka-Tung, GC Goo Bi, Siu Yam-Yam
  The Skinny: More questionable fun from Hong Kong's top young filmmaker, Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung. Exodus may be a tough sell for general audiences because of its uningratiating black comedy tone and lack of overt resolution or catharis. Still, this is an assured and accomplished work that should earn kudos for craft alone, if not actual content. Not for everyone, but it should find plenty of fans.
by Kozo:

Pang Ho-Cheung is at it again. Hong Kong Cinema's naughtiest young auteur returns to cinemas with Exodus, a slyly subversive black comedy about a female conspiracy to eliminate all men. Maybe. Simon Yam stars as Tsim Kin-Yip, a low-level cop who stumbles upon what he thinks could be a hidden crime ring. While taking a profanity-laced statement from unbalanced loser Kwan Ping-Man (Nick Cheung), who was apprehended for peeping in a woman's bathroom, Tsim learns that a secret cartel of women are out to kill men. Or so Kwan claims.

The accusation is outlandish, and Tsim doesn't seem to think much of it at first, spending more time listening to his pretty young wife Ann (Annie Liu) grouse over the renovations to their new flat. Tsim is also propositioned for a shady money deal by his mother-in-law (Candy Yu), plus his daily life is the absolute boring pits. Yet Tsim trudges on through his mundane existence with a seemingly resigned acceptance. This is the life he's chosen, for better or worse, so that's where he gives his all - or maybe 60% of his all. Basically, it's your standard "bloom is off the rose" marriage, and if Yip doesn't have the seven year-itch yet, he's at least halfway there.

But marital issues - or the lack thereof - take a backseat when Kwan suddenly changes his statement, requiring Tsim to take the profane Kwan's statement again. Kwan's new statement is that he's just a horny voyeur and that there's no man-killing conspiracy afoot - a message he delivers in an unconvincing, jittery manner. After YTsimip learns that Kwan's story changed only after a visit from policewoman Fong (Maggie Siu), his interest is piqued. He begins to quietly investigate Kwan's claims, first by tailing Kwan, and then by annoying him with incessant questions. After Kwan goes underground, he checks in with Kwan's ex-wife, club girl Pun Siu-Yuen (Irene Wan). After repeated meetings, Tsim begins to spend perhaps too much time with the leggy Siu-Yuen.

Tsim also reports his findings by talking into his personal recorder, and spends extra overtime at the library checking out news of other men stricken with untimely deaths. What he discovers is that yep, a lot of guys have died, a bunch of women have survived, and the evidence is pretty circumstantial. Hell, even Ann's father died in a rather strange manner, a fact that Tsim brings up as a form of crappy pillow talk to his increasingly frustrated wife. Tsim buries himself in his new crusade, ignoring some of his normal husband duties. Still, the investigation doesn't progress as much as it does meander, and nobody seems to care about Tsim's investigation beyond himself. Even though his leads usually go nowhere, Tsim obsession becomes greater - and everyone around him, from Madam Fong to his wife, seems to be aware of it. Will the investigation draw him into danger? Or is this secret cartel of women just a figment of an overactive, middle-aged mind?

Exodus starts with a bravura opening shot, depicting a poor sap getting beaten with hammers in what appears to be a police station hallway - and his attackers are a bunch of guys wearing swimsuits, diving masks, swim fins, and snorkels. The shot begins on a portrait of Queen Elizabeth, and slowly tracks back, revealing more of this absurd scene, and the effect is darkly funny, inherently disturbing, and immediately intriguing. This bizarre scene asks the immediate question, namely "What the Hell is going on?" The film is patient, not referring to the scene until Exodus is practically over, which pretty much tells us one thing: Pang Ho-Cheung is in the house, and he's going to do things his way. As Pang has demonstrated time and time again, he's a director who's clever, detailed, and knows exactly what he's doing. Nothing is extraneous in a Pang Ho-Cheung movie.

Or maybe everything is extraneous - an easy assessment, if one doesn't have much of a taste for Pang's sometimes self-amused directorial style. In the past, Pang's choices have sometimes been obvious in their loaded meaning, but he changes that up for Exodus. This is a opaque film; the proceedings are rather inert, possessing very little action, and showing Tsim's investigation in a mundane, almost boring manner. He follows, he snoops, some leads pop up, they usually go nowhere, and not much gets resolved. Not helping matters is the fact that Tsim is a lousy detective, leaving an obvious trail for anyone to follow, and essentially putting a massive target on his back for the man-killers to zero in on him - that is, if the man-killers even exist. Tsim's investigation doesn't bring him closer to the truth as much as it proves that he's kind of useless, and even pathetic in how he lets his investigation derail into your standard midlife crisis management. Basically, his intentions are good, but he lets his flawed humanity get in the way of doing the right, or brave thing. That could describe 80% of the people in this world.

What is Pang is trying to show us with his new film? Is he using this uninspiring character to show us that that some men are stupid and deserve to be killed? Or is he pushing a non-feminist view that women are evil harridans out to rid the world of useless people possessing XY chromosomes? Or is he just screwing around? As usual with a Pang Ho-Cheung film, the answer is: who the Hell really knows? Pang is an exceptionally smart director, and tells naughty, potentially off-color stories in a manner unbefitting their likely sordid subject matter. The heart of Exodus is absurd and patently unbelievable, but since Pang reveals in opaque, observational, deadpan serious style, the whole thing comes off as funny and even strangely believable. If the man-killers do exist in the film then they escape detection because the very idea that they exist is nearly impossible to believe. That's really the point behind Pang's satire - which one character reveals explicitly - that getting away with the unbelievable is possible because no one will ever buy into something so outlandish.

Exodus is a blackly funny meta-reference to this theme, playing up the paranoid idea that something large and shadowy could be happening just out of reach. Corruption, conspiracy - those concepts exist everywhere, but they usually don't affect people overtly, or we deny that they exist because believing in them is too complicated and troublesome. If those concepts were magnified to absurd, grossly exaggerated extremes - and people still don't want to bother confronting them - wouldn't that be funny? With Exodus as evidence, the answer is "yes", and Pang delivers his message with tremendous artistry, depicting the ideas with deadpan irony, and creating exaggerated, yet subdued characters. Maggie Siu and Annie Liu exude an air of inscrutable malevolence fitting for the film's subject matter, and Nick Cheung is amusingly paranoid and irritable, eliciting the film's largest laughs. Simon Yam looks characteristically suave as Tsim, but his character is not smart or clever at all, and in many ways he gets what he deserves.

Or maybe Tsim doesn't deserve his fate. Pang doesn't moralize with Exodus, which is something the director has seemingly done since his very first film: shy away from taking a stand about serious issues and poke fun at the seriousness with which others regard those things. The above thought is a mouthful, so here it is bluntly: Pang likes to make fun of stuff that most people usually don't - and he does it in a way that's self-assured, to the point of practically being self-congratulatory. What's great about Exodus is that Pang loses the showy cleverness of such films as Beyond Our Ken and Isabella, affecting more through contemplative style and wordless action than scenes loaded with ironic, self-congratulatory meaning. Many of the scenes in Exodus are exceptionally long, but the dialogue and action (or inaction) contained within tell us volumes about the characters and the world Pang has created for them.

Pang resists payoffs or moments of grand, telling emotion, letting most characters make decisions silently, offscreen, or perhaps even not at all. Eventually, he reveals all the answers that the audience is asking for, but by then, there is little drama left. The resolution of Exodus is explanatory and ironic, serving to fill in the blanks, and the detached manner in which it's all revealed is remote, and bleakly, blackly funny. Some of the laughs are obvious and overt, like Nick Cheung's exaggerated use of profanity, but the comedy in Exodus is largely cold stuff, and that icy, amused wit ultimately creates the film's defining impression. The controlled effort by Pang is appreciable, and the same kudos extends to the technical personnel; Exodus is remarkably produced, with excellent cinematography and art direction, and a fine score from Gabriele Roberto, the Italian composer responsible for the score for Memories of Matsuko. From its judicious pacing and well-established tone to its fine composition and attention to detail, Exodus is an exacting, well-produced effort that obviously had serious thought put into it.

However, while all the above is justification for Exodus receiving acclaim from critics - as it did recently with 10 nominations from the Golden Bauhinia Awards - it's also the very reason that the film will likely turn off many audiences. Pang's work here is accomplished, but the remote tone, subdued wit, and lack of overt resolution means that the film essentially stays on even footing for its entire running time, never tipping its hand or leading the audience in an obvious direction. The resulting reward is a subtle one, but it's also a far cry from the usual clever twist or knowing climax that Pang has given audiences in the past. Exodus is smart, uncommon stuff, but it's also something that will not play to a crowd expecting some sort of a payoff. Exodus is more art film than mass entertainment, and could end up dividing audiences because it simply doesn't give them the things many audiences may expect, like action, overt conflict, or any sort of catharis. There is an appropriateness to how things end in Exodus, but if a payoff exists, then it's likely only an internal one felt by an individual audience member, and not something that can necessarily be shared with others. Plainly speaking, Exodus isn't for everyone, as it doesn't really work to make itself an enjoyable, or even accessible experience. However, those who do find themselves liking the film may end up liking it a lot. (Kozo 2007)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen