Exiled (Alliance, 2006) D: Johnny To, w/ Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Nick Cheung. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NN
Last year Johnny To, Hong Kong’s most stylistically varied and assured director, went for gritty realism in Election 1 and 2. That’s all gone in this film, replaced by sepia-toned noir shadows and gunplay in large, empty rooms, as though Sergio Leone’s too-open spaces had been brought inside. But To avoids Leone’s grotesquerie and grandeur to give his violence a strongly de-romanticized sense of futility and some surprising narrative turns.
He also avoids John Woo-style clichés. If the archetypal Woo shot is two men with their guns shoved in each other’s faces, the archetypal To shot, repeated in several movies, is the isolated gunman standing stock still, arm outstretched, blasting at someone neither he nor we can see. The shooter is both dehumanized and revealed as completely vulnerable.
As the gangster ordered to kill his old buddy, Anthony Wong says almost nothing but conveys his hopelessness in every movement. It’s a powerful performance by one of Hong Kong’s best actors. In the brief making-of doc, To says the film is about a “romantic, idealistic” view of friendship. The Wild Bunch-inspired ending supports that view, but the rest of the movie tells a different story.
EXTRAS Two making-of docs. Widescreen. Cantonese, English audio. English, Spanish subtitles.