We’d heard a lot of hype about Hong Kong director Johnnie To’s (杜棋峰) new film Exiled (放逐), not least of all because it was one of three Chinese language films that competed at the Venice Film Festival (against new works by Jia Zhangke and Tsai Ming-liang).
We just watched the DVD, and if ultraviolent action and stylish gunplay is your thing, then this is the movie to watch. The plot is simple: 1998 Macau, right before the handover — four triad hitmen are sent after a rebel triad member, but rebel against the big boss’ orders and thus become the targets themselves. The film reminds of us John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (英雄本色) series — especially the second one — because of the huge shootout in the house at the end of the movie. Those of you that’ve seen that one will recall a fuckload of bullets and shitload of blood, and Exiled certainly does the same, except without grenades.
This movie is so bloody that it even got banned in Malaysia, and it’s not going to be released in the theaters here we don’t think. There are those who, in comparing Exiled with Election and Election 2 will say that To’s latest has much less political commentary and substance than does the Election series — which is absolutely true, but honestly, we prefer guns, blood, and death done in stlye, and Exiled has got style up the wazoo.
The cinematography and art direction are pretty amazing — they make the most of the saturated colors, European architecture, and natural environs of Macau. To is quite obviously a visually talented director, the composition of almost every frame is beautiful, even when what’s happening in the scenes is complete chaos.
The soundtrack, which featured a lot of acoustic guitar work, was also quite interesting, and oddly enough gave us the feeling that we were watching a Western, especially since Macau is, visually speaking, not typically Chinese. There’s an interlude in the middle with Taiwanese pop star/actor Richie Jen that kind of sucked because he plays a cigarette-smoking sniper which, even in a movie that begs the suspension of disbelief, still seems completely unbelievable. He also plays a wretched harmonica, which mars the soundtrack but might be understood as a homage to the cheesy 80s John Woo and Hong Kong cinema type soundtracks.
The film isn’t really sentimental the way that John Woo’s somehow managed to be, but who cares — there’s always a bloodbath around the corner, and that is where the movie shines. The pacing is such that it never gets slow while not overdoing the violence to the point that it wears thin.
* A note on the DVD: we bought the 12 RMB version, which we suppose was more zheng ban than what you’d normally get for 7 RMB but it still skipped a lot, which is infuriating when you’re in the middle of a good movie. Taking the DVD out and cleaning it only made it worse. Our Apple laptop, by contrast, said it was a “blank CD,” and just as we were getting desperate we tried our PC laptop and amazingly, it didn’t skip at all!
Image from themovieleague.com