Courtesy of MovieXclusive.com
What an interesting double bill this would be with The Departed. As opposed to that films approach of visceral, unflinching violence, Johnnie To brings a sophisticated chic to battles in his newest thriller, Exiled. To is fast becoming the most dependable Asian director in this genre today, after coming off a string of acclaimed hits with the complex and purposeful Election films. This could seem a return to a style that first garnered him critical attention and gifted him the nickname of Hong Kongs Sergio Leone.
With the handover to China looming just a year away, reverberations are being felt throughout the Macau underworld. Theres a strong need for scores to be settled and feasting eyes of the mobs from the nearby territories are directed at the southern island. With this political realignment as a backdrop, To urges an intrinsic race against time as old friends and old enemies take their places in order to topple impending gangland regimes and secure their final paydays. Like dmod dinosaurs trapped in a world of lawlessness, friends sharing the same childhood are pitted against each other, silently contemplating their options in midst of divided loyalties as the clock ticks down.
These steely-eyed men, with determined and hardened exteriors each hide a sentimentality that does not go unnoticed. The film does not make any apologies for their line of work, nor does it give excuses or consolations for the acts theyve committed. But you dont need to like them in order to root for them. Their reticent features and certain resignation to the twilight of their era are telling enough of their fates.
Indeed Tos films have a distinct style about them that is closely reminiscent of the classic Westerns. And what To consistently does well is to elevate his gangster films into that genre, infusing various tropes of powerful, silent scenes that resound so much more than pertinent patter ever could and especially harping back to the honour that the films main men live and die by. With the cacophony of chaos, the symphony of the score and the solemnest of silence, To pays tribute to the power of sound in his movie. His gun battles are so highly stylised and removed from reality that one cant help but be spellbound by the graceful velocity of his cameras movement and the visual gambits undertaken. Theres strong symbolism engraved to his shots as plot devices and early introductions seem to foreshadow events and theres a strong authenticity with the refreshing Euro-Asian Macau territories with Tos use of Portuguese music and the decadence of its setting.
Reassembling the principle cast of one of his biggest hits, The Mission, To has designs on the already established camaraderie that his actors enjoy. And that very solidarity is crucial to pull off the most intense moments in Exiled, especially the masterclass opening scenes of reunion. As this is not a sequel or prequel to The Mission, its different characters pull off the dry comedy and ensemble stunts admirably and it slowly becomes the core of the films accentuated sentiments. Johnnie Tos imposing style is on full force here, unrelenting excitement from the get-go that culminates in a tour de force finale.