When Wo is discovered to be living in Macao, Boss Fay orders Blaze to kill him. Wo once attempted to assassinate Fay, and now he must pay the price. But Blaze and Wo were once friends, and Blaze is unable to pull off the job. Even more so, his friend Tai has pleaded for Blaze to spare Wo’s life. These three, along with their gangster friends Cat and Fat, conspire to pull off a highly risky assassination job of Boss Keung, and intend to give the money they earn from it to hide away Wo and his family. Their plot to kill Keung is quite tricky, and even the slightest deviation from their plan will alert Fay, and bring his henchmen down on them. And on top of all this, the clock is slowly counting down to the handover of Macao to the Chinese government, their lives and fates are up in the air as to what the future holds.
For fans of Hong Kong action with knowledge that goes past John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat, you have only to look at the laundry list of talent attached to this film to know that it will succeed on every level. Johnnie To directs, through his Milky Way Image production company. The script comes from the pen of two writers whose previous scripts include Expect The Unexpected, A Hero Never Dies, and Breaking News. And the cast is a perfect assortment of Hong Kong’s classic gangster actors including Anthony Wong, Simon Yam, Francis Ng, Lam Suet, and Roy Cheung, which coincidentally is most of the main cast for Johnnie To’s classic The Mission.
Johnnie To brings the story to life in the screen with a zeal that can not be denied, and dives back into a world and questionable time in Chinese history, that of the handover of Hong Kong, Macao and surrounding areas to the government of China. In Hong Kong cinema in the mid-nineties, the upcoming handover and unanswerable questions as to how life was going to change for its citizens became an easy go-to source for film in all genres, most notably the triad crime films. With Exiled taking place in this apprehensive time period, To returns to his classic gritty style, his take on violence, and his twisted sense of humor that made him a god in the eyes of filmgoers. To also gets to relish in his classic thematic motifs here, as brotherhood, tragedy, betrayal, choice and consequence become all important bonds between the characters.
With the aid of cinematographer Cheng Siu-Keung, who has been working with To for over ten years, the camera slowly maneuvers through the action and conversations like a tiger waiting to pounce. His slow and deliberate positioning, which lets the viewer know exactly where ally and enemy are at all times as they wait for impending firefights and arguments to commence. And once those guns start firing in rapid succession, you can’t help but smile and recall To’s rich cinematic history and relationship to the gun. Each firefight is a tightly wound and precise dance. The characters know exactly what they are doing, and it shows through in how To’s choreography of the scenes. The music also plays a deliberate game with how we perceive the action. Even as the shots become a blur of rapid editing, and camera speed is adjusted to draw out the moment, the music remains a slow and sad melody of pianos and guitars, drenching each scene with an inescapable sadness.
The cast here, as mentioned previously, are some of the best names in the crime drama business. Anthony Wong, as Blaze, wraps himself in a cold and almost robotic singular non-emotion the entire time, hiding behind sunglasses as a way to hide the only window into his conflicted mind. Simon Yam, as Boss Fay, draws on his ability to switch from perfectly calm to uncontrollable madman at a moment’s notice. Lam Suet, who once again finds himself in the sidekick criminal role as Fat, gets to flash his charming and shy smile and provide the light humor needed to cut some of tension of the scenes. Finally, Josie Ho, who as Wo’s wife is also the only female character of any substance in the movie, gets a chance to show off her conflicted sadness and wrath with some chops that proves she is one of Hong Kong’s better modern actresses.
Johnnie To proves once again here that his mastery over triad tragedies is unwavering, and that he and his Milky Way Creative Team are able to provide solid and entertaining drama time and time again, each time offering something new to their dedicated audience. Magnolia Pictures, who releases Exiled August 31, 2007, in the U.S., understands the importance of To’s visions and more importantly respects his fans. To that end they are releasing the film uncut in the original Cantonese with English subtitles.