Fong juk (Exiled) Reviews
The exquisite and warm production design brings 1998 Macau - a Portuguese colony in Southeast China about an hour boat ride from Hong Kong - to life. It allows Cheng Siu- Keung - To's reliable and excellent DP - to design shadows and balance the dark atmosphere with evocative lighting setups in order to consistently emphasize danger and insurmountability for the protagonists. Anthony Wong leads a great cast with his subtle and imposing presence, complemented by Francis Ng's staccato outbursts and feisty demeanor, and offset by Simon Yam's fun and villainous role as a Triad boss. To top it off, Canadian composer Guy Zerafa provides a score filled with stringy and metallic guitar riffs that intricately builds the tension and results for an even more stylized experience.
With actors who are suave, fitting, and flat-out cool, combined with the experienced technical team at Milky Way Images helping to realize the eloquent vision of their prolific director, EXILED is a fantastic action film where To's signature touch is unmistakable.
I've recently seen Johnnie To's 2009 film "Vengeance," to which I claimed is the film I have always wanted to make. "Exiled," a film made three years before that film, is another example of To's directing prowess, but it's a film that lacks a decent script, acting, and coherence.
The single redeeming factor in "Exiled" are its highly stylized and violent gun battles. These scenes are well choreographed and could easily give "The Matrix's" Watchoski brothers a run for their money. While gun shots ring out at an alarming rate: smoke envelops the scene with a dense fog , our heroes (unlike in most films) are shot up as often as then villains, and waves of tapestries and blood spatter fill the screen. Everything is in slow motion, so we can see the art in the violence depicted in front of us.
Its plot, if you can even call it that, involves the changing of power in an area of Southern China where organized crime runs rampant. Our heroes are caught in the middle of a power struggle and are forced to take sides. They are hit men who love to look cool in sunglasses no matter the occasion. They are led by a wise middle aged man played by Anthony Wong who tries his hardest with a weak script. The hitmen's plans go awry and they find themselves exiled from their old lives. If and when their boss sees them again, he will kill them. Near the middle end of the film we end up looking at a new film were our characters are stranded and end up hunting for gold. They find two tons worth and attempt to use it to their advantage.
The film is an homage to the Spaghetti Western. But I have to ask, is paying tribute to a style of film enough for a movie to be considered good? "Django Unchained" a film Quentin Tarantino also payed homage to the same genre, but it left room for complicated things like powerhouse performances, an award winning script, and a film that dared to re-push the buttons on the ever prevalent (but rarely talked about) race issue in America. Is "Exiled" making commentary about the issues between the Portuguese and Chinese in the city of Macau? Are they saying anything about organized crime's grip on the people? I see that the writers think cops are weak individuals, so why not go into that?
In most scenes, every actor is too busy staring into the distance to look as cool as possible. There are one too many long winded scenes that should have chopped up and tightened in the editing room. No human stares at a coin for ten seconds before he flips it, he flips because you he's trying to make a hasty decision. The dialogue moves at too slow of a pace and often makes you wonder if its worth trudging through the rest of the film in hopes of another satiating gun battle. It isn't.
Grade: F (A greatly directed failure nevertheless)