Exiled (U.S. Theatrical release)

Once, long ago, Wo and four other men used to be friends on the gang-controlled streets of Macao. However, a failed plot attempt on Boss Fay put Wo on the run and separated him from everything he knew. Returning to Macao to settle down with his new wife and baby, Wo finds two men who have been assigned to kill him and two more willing to protect him. The five comrades are together again and facing the issue of what to do when Wo’s life has already been spared once. Director Johnnie To’s (Running Out of Time, The Mission, Triad Election) tale of gangs and brotherhood, Fong juk, comes to America as Exiled from Magnolia Pictures

Theatrical Title: Exiled (Fong juk)
Release Date: 8/31/2007 (Limited Release)
Release Studio: Magnolia Pictures

Director: Johnnie To
Writer: Kam-Yuen Szeto, Tin-Shing Yip

Audio: Cantonese
Subtitles: English
Runtime: 113mins

Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product for theatrical release. Production photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Jin’s (Josie Ho; Butterfly, House of Fury) peaceful life is disrupted when two suspicious men knock on her door, asking for Wo (Nick Cheung; The Conman, Election). She denies that Wo lives there and closes the door. The two men wait in the courtyard. Another pair of suspicious men knock on the door moments later, asking for the same man; Jin says that she doesn’t know him. As these two move into the courtyard in front of the apartment, they acknowledge the two men already waiting there. You can only imagine Wo’s surprise when he drives up to his home and finds four men, likely armed, waiting for him.

Having failed to kill Boss Fay (Simon Yam; Election, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life), Wo was allowed safe passage from town thanks to the efforts of his friends. Returning to Macao has put all of them in bad positions as Wo tries to settle down somewhere familiar with his new family. Tai (Francis Ng; Curse of Lola, Infernal Affairs 2) and Cat (Roy Cheung; Avenging Fist, Infernal Affairs 2) have come to protect Wo’s life while Boss Fay has ordered Blaze (Anthony Wong; Initial D, Infernal Affairs trilogy) and Fat (Suet Lam; Election, Kung Fu Hustle) to kill Wo. Blaze and Tai empty their clips to match how many Wo’s revolver carries. As gunfire erupts from the apartment, the room is riddled with bullets that somehow never manage to kill anyone. With a stalemate at hand, the men agree to sit down and talk the matter out. Since Wo only just moved here the friends band together once again to set up the apartment for the new family.

The four men decide to help out their friend one last time by taking up a large contract to get Wo some money. At the hotel, Jeff offers some small contract hits and spreads the rumor of a transport truck carrying one ton in gold bars, but none of this is quick enough. Jeff receives another contract to offer: half a million to kill Boss Keung that night at Yat Chung Restaurant. However, Boss Fay decides to make an appearance at the restaurant and the hit soon falls apart as Boss Fay sees Wo still alive. The restaurant becomes a battleground as Wo saves Blaze’s life while taking a bullet to the chest and Boss Fay is shot in the balls. An underground clinic patches up Wo, and Boss Fay soon follows to have his own injuries looked at. As the two parties run into each other once again, the fight begins anew with fatal results.

Exiled is a masterpiece put together bullet by bullet with a compelling story, deep characters, and stunning cinematics to showcase how close the five friends truly are. And just as soon as the four men find themselves on the bad side of Boss Fay, they manage to band together and make the best of it. The gunfights are visual treats as we are shown beauty in the middle of these chaotic moments thanks to the camera slowly pushing over the scene while dozens of bullets impact at once. Further more, the story flows well through each act and you can’t help but feel for the characters as they show how honorable they can be. There is lots of humor sprinkled into the film to lighten the moment as needed, like the policeman who is determined to survive his final couple of days without incident. The cast contains several Johnnie To regulars and the group bonds together onscreen from the first moment. Anthony Wong (Blaze) and Francis Ng (Tai) dual quite well as two commanding entities on camera knowing how to both own their scenes and blend well together when the script calls for it. Josie Ho’s role as the woman who doesn’t want to be involved with her husband’s former line of work is well played; you can feel the hate coming off her as Wo falls further and further into his mess. And you can’t help but love Simon Yam’s approach to the overzealous Boss Fay as he proves he isn’t man enough to be the new force in town.

Exiled is one of 2007′s must-see movies, and you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try to catch it on the big screen during its limited release. Johnnie To’s work is perfect for the action movie fan and deservedly on the level of other action directors like John Woo (Hard Boiled, A Better Tomorrow) and Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, Gozu). Magnolia Pictures has provided an accurate translation and uncut film to enjoy. The setting, music, and cast really bring together the perfect entertainment package (thanks to Johnnie To) to enjoy on your own or see with friends.