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Exiled (Fong Juk)

dir: Johnny To
[img_assist|nid=852|title=Just guys, standing around, looking over their shoulders|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=441]
Exiled is the latest flick from one of Hong Kong’s most prolific and stylish directors. Although it has a similar dynamic to To’s earlier action classic The Mission, it is in no way a sequel. Even with many of the same actors, playing similar roles, it’s still not a sequel. But it does have a lot of similarities, and that’s not a bad thing.

What you can expect in a Johnny To film is men, usually professional criminals or triads, doing manly things. The overarching and underlying theme is always friendship, brotherhood and the bonds of loyalty between men.

And, as with his more action-based films, as you would expect, there are guns. Lots of guns.

About the only thing that sticks out as being significantly different is the location. Instead of unfolding in Hong Kong, Exiled takes place in Macau, just prior to the handover of political control from the Portuguese to China in 1998.

Wo (Nick Cheung) has been in hiding after a botched attempt on his employer, Boss Fay’s (Simon Yam) life. He has been found living in Macau with his wife (Josie Ho) and child. Four of his former fellow gangsters and friends turn up to say hi. Except, two of them, Blaze (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang) and Fat (Suet Lam) are there on orders to kill him, and the other two, Tai (Francis Ng) and Cat (Roy Cheung), want to protect him.

Blaze is absolutely determined to do his duty, but he still regards Wo as a friend, and the other guy’s as friends as well. So what will win out: his loyalty to his mad boss, or his loyalty to his friends?

The excellent cinematography, the moody and effective soundtrack, and the editing combine to make this an impressive film. The acting is dependably solid, as you would expect from veterans of Hong Kong cinema like Yam, Wong and Ng. Anthony Wong especially seems to be in every HK movie made in the last twenty years. This role is not much of a departure for him, in that he usually lets his sunglasses, his smoking and his attitude do most of the work, but he’s dependable.

The five friends and their interactions are what the core of the film is about, and the film manages to convey the friendship between the five goofy but lethal guys in simple ways, such as when they try to jumpstart a car, or the way they work together when killing needs to be done.

For all its emphasis on friendship and family, make no mistake, there is a lot of gunfighting, and a lot of death. Three scenes in particular stand out action-wise, including the amazing introductory gun fight in Wo’s apartment, a fight to help out a skilled policeman protecting a shipment of gold, and the final showdown, which is a swirl of smoke, red sprays of blood and falling bodies, all in the time that it takes a can of Red Bull to rise and fall in the air.

Emphasising an almost Taoist approach to their fate, at several points our main guys decide what they are going to do based on the outcome of a coin toss. It’s not particularly philosophical or deep, but it does add a quirky feeling to the proceedings.

Combined with that are some truly hard to believe coincidences that drive the plot, but it doesn’t matter. Johnny To keeps the movie moving at a steady pace, but by the same token he doesn’t overdo it with action scenes or slow it down with melodrama.

The quiet scenes between the guys, or the scenes where the only sound is the ringing of the bells tied around the ankle of Wo’s son: these scenes give the movie a little bit more emotional heft than just your standard action movie.

With each new flick, To proves himself to be one of Hong Kong’s best contemporary directors. Exiled and the sequel to Election (Hak se wui yi wo wai) both released in 2006, show that he’s having a good year. Which means it’s a good year for his fans, too.

8 bullet-riddled corpses out of 10