This fine crime caper/actioner by Johnnie To, one of the former colony's best current directors, is Hong Kong's official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at this year's Oscars.
As it begins, two pairs of gunman await the return of Wo (Nick Cheung), a former gang member, to his new apartment. One pair, Blaze (Anthony Wong) and Fat (Lam Suet), has been ordered by Boss Fay (Simon Yam) to kill him. The other two, Tai (Francis Ng) and Cat (Roy Cheung), are there to protect him. All five had once belonged to Boss Fay's gang.
The first of several well-staged and -filmed set pieces is a shoot-out in Wo's nearly empty apartment. Amazingly, none of the five, nor Wo's wife or their young child, are even slightly injured. The two sides agree to a brief truce so that Wo can pull off one last job and thereby provide for his wife and child.
To anyone vaguely familiar with Hong Kong actors, it will be immediately obvious that the film has a stellar cast. Most of them also appeared in To's The Mission (1999). Indeed, the story line of Exiled is a reworking of the mini-story that emerged at the end of that film, where two pairs of gunmen face-off over the order to execute a fifth member of their group.
The film has more in common with Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns and Sam Peckinpah's works than with former Hong Konger John Woo's "bullet ballets." This is not to take anything away from Director To's considerable skills, just to provide some reference.
Exiled recently came out on DVD from Magnolia Home Entertainment. I watched the film on a DVD screener during last summer's New York Asian FIlm Festival, so at this time I can't comment on the quality of this commercial release. But it does include Making Of and Behind the Scenes featurettes, and at least makes the film accessible to those interested, which any serious reader of this blog should be.
The film did win the Hong Kong Film Critics Society's awards for best film and director. Still it's hard to say why it got picked to be H.K.'s entry for consideration as Best Foreign Language film. Maybe they thought that since The Departed, which was based on Hong Kong's Infernal Affairs, won Best Picture at last year's shindig, Exiled might have a shot as a nominee in the foreign language slot.
Sorry to say, this ain't gonna happen. Exiled is not in any way a serious contender for one of the nominee slots. Still, it is a solid film, enjoyable and entertaining. Plus, you get to see Simon Yam bitch-slap Anthony Wong! That alone is priceless!
ACF rating: 3 out of 4 stars (solid recommendation).