Four men are sent to assassinate Wo, a gang member who once made a failed attempt on the life of crime boss Fay, went into hiding for many years and has now returned with a wife and child. The hired men are all former associated of Wo and some of them are reluctant to kill him. In the elaborate setup scene they all make their moves, either to protect him or finish him off, resulting in a bravura gunfight sequence. After the smoke has settled a truce is called, and realizing the futility of their ways, they put down their weapons to negotiate. A consensus is reached and it is agreed to use Wo to take out rival crime boss Keung and use the reward money to flee. Matters however take a different turn and to their disadvantage, Fay and Keung form an alliance. Everyone at this point is forced to reconsider their stand.
Director Johnny To is no stranger to the Hong Kong gangster series, having helmed the brutal and fascinating ‘Election’ a couple of years ago. Unlike his work in that film however, ‘Exiled’ is less complex and more reliant on visually intriguing gunfights that seem influenced by John Woo’s brand of filmmaking. This means that even though the ‘Exiled’ is bloody and violent, it is stylistically rendered. Like the opening sequence, there are other elaborate setups that showcase the directing abilities of To as a master of technique and form, but he seems to give-in to his desire to entertain with waltzing battle scenes. The best aspect of ‘Exiled’ is probably its layered, unconventional script, with enough juicy twists and turns for one movie and its sequel.
With this and ‘Election’, To has given the gangster genre much more credibility. In his films, the mafia works similar to organizations. They have elections, negotiations and truces. They also come across as thoughtful and suave, something that Hollywood remakes like ‘Departed’ compensate for with profanity. Too many similar films are about what their protagonists do, not who they are. To’s films seem to be as much about its people, their loyalties, camaraderie’s and how this all functions within groups of men. ‘Exiled’ is anything but conventional. Consider the cop who is on the trail of these men, but who is also about to retire in a few days. In another film, he would not let his personal situation affect his ability to perform while on duty. In ‘Exiled’, the cop makes it clear that he has no intention of interfering with the internal strife of the gang, because he will ultimately retire in a few days. ’The film is eventually a collection of excellently rendered symphonies of building up and releasing thrills, one after the other, even though by the end it falls victim to the trap of being over done. That is still a small complain in a uniformly entertaining film.
- by Faizan Rashid [Rated 4 out of 5]