As finely tuned as a Swiss watch
I saw this film at the Toronto International Film Festival. Among
lovers of Hong Kong cinema, Johnnie To is legendary. He had three films
showing in this year's festival (Election (2005) and Election 2 (2006)
screened together, as well as this film) and this was my first
experience seeing one of his films. I'll be seeking out some others.
Exiled is an incredibly well- constructed film. It's like a Swiss
watch, with every scene precisely set up and choreographed and nothing
wasted. To has created a self-contained world and set his characters
loose in it. Set just around the time of Macau's reversion to the
Chinese government, it concerns a group of hit men who come together
when their boss orders a hit on one of them. Two pairs of men arrive at
the target's new home. The first to warn him, the second to kill him.
After a kinetic set piece involving three shooters, precisely 18
bullets, and the target's wife and infant son, the group ends up
helping still-alive Wo move furniture into his new place, before
settling down to eat.
The mixture of action, comedy, and sentiment is probably a staple of
Hong Kong gangster films, but I found it fresh. The plot continues when
the assassins agree to give Wo some time to carry out one last job to
make some cash for his soon to be widowed wife and orphaned child.
Things don't go as planned, however, and the film bumps along from set
piece to set piece until an inevitable but satisfying end. Each
choreographed set piece is set up in such a way as to heighten the
anticipation, and you almost don't mind that none of these trained
killers seems to be a very good shot. It's enough that they're all
ludicrously macho, swilling scotch from the bottle and smoking as they
fire bullets at each other.
Seeing this one on the big screen is a must, just for the sound. The
musical score, by Canadian Guy Zerafa, veered between James Bond and
spaghetti westerns, with a bit of mournful harmonica thrown in. It
worked perfectly, as did the fact that the viewer can hear every single
shell casing hit the ground throughout the film. Even the gunshots
themselves seemed different from those in American films, with less
blast and more metallic sounds. It certainly helped create atmosphere.
While this and the choreographed gunplay never let you forget you're
watching a created thing rather than any semblance of reality, that
actually made me more appreciative of the creator. He's certainly
created another Johnnie To fan.
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