Review: Exiled

Exiled is a flabbergasting spectacle of kaleidoscopic violence that abstractly appraises codes of masculine honor.

Photo: Magnolia Pictures

Johnnie To’s Exiled is a flabbergasting spectacle of kaleidoscopic violence that abstractly appraises codes of masculine honor. The coolest director on the block, To channels the spirit of the western throughout this elegantly tossed-off triumph, though he never misrepresents the natural essence of Macau, a small territory on the southern coast of China that exudes a sweaty tropical-like vibe. A bass-heavy Ennio Morricone riff would not be entirely out of place in this film, which boasts one jaw-dropping set piece after another, beginning with an elegiac confrontation between childhood friends outside the home of a woman and her newborn child. Two mysterious men arrive looking for her husband Wo (Nick Cheung), followed closely by two others who coolly plead for the man’s life. Upstairs, a remarkable shoot-out ensues, damaging only doors and mirrors, after which friends and family sit down for a picture. This photograph contrasts with another, taken many years earlier—a symbol of how far these men have come and a reminder of the camaraderie they should protect. Blaze (Anthony Wong) and Tai (Francis Ng) do not kill Wo, and together with Cat (Roy Cheung) and Fat (Lam Suet) they take arms against a torrent of new enemies—in a restaurant, a doctor’s apartment, a field near Buddha Mountain, and a hotel lobby. A house burns to the ground, igniting the vengeance-is-mine fury of Wo’s wife; blood explodes out of people’s bodies in clouds of red dust; cans of Red Bull are used to intimidate police officers; and the flip of a coin determines crucial decisions. Through it all, there is a sense that destiny cannot be undone. Thrillingly prismatic, this robust film bests Martin Scorsese’s visually competent but emotionally flat The Departed by actually having buildings, photographs, and a jingly memento mori resonate with existential and metaphysical questioning.

 Cast: Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Nick Cheung, Josie Ho, Roy Cheung, Lam Suet, Richie Jen, Simon Yam, Lam Ka Tung, Cheung Siu Fai, Tam Ping Man, Hui Siu Hung, Ellen Chan  Director: Johnnie To  Screenwriter: Szeto Kam Yuen, Yip Tin Shing  Distributor: Magnolia Pictures  Running Time: 100 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2006  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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