YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


In stylish 'Exiled,' a tip of the hat to Leone, Peckinpah

High-caliber acting and choreographed action sequences are strengths of Johnnie To's gangland flick, set in 1998 Macao.

September 07, 2007|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

A 1960s western in spirit, director Johnnie To's "Exiled" is set in 1998 Macao on the brink of its hand-over from Portuguese to Chinese rule. The environment creates a sense of quiet desperation for the criminal element looking to make a last big score before the colonial era comes to a close.

Wo (Nick Cheung) is a gangster trying to go straight after his failed assassination attempt against crime lord Boss Fay (Simon Yam). Ominously, four former colleagues show up at the apartment Wo shares with his wife, Jin (Josie Ho), and infant son. Blaze (Anthony Wong) is charged with killing Wo for his transgression, while Tai (Francis Ng) is determined to keep that from happening. Cat (Roy Cheung) and Fat (Lam Suet) stand by, weapons drawn.

The five mobsters are longtime friends, and what transpires is a stylish treatment of some classic themes: brotherhood, loyalty, betrayal and honor among thieves. The action begins with a portentous flick of cigar ash and ends with an epic gunfight played out as a can of Red Bull hangs in the air.

The director treats gunplay like ballet and tips his hat to Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah with plenty of slow motion and clouds of spraying blood. There is genuine beauty in To's action sequences and tableaux, and Macao is photographed to great effect by cinematographer Cheng Siu Keung.

The moral standoff in the quintet (to kill Wo, or not to kill Wo? That is the question) plays out on the faces of the actors as much as it does in the heavily choreographed shootouts. The dialogue (at least in translation) is not particularly inspired, but the charismatic performances make it compelling. This is the rare action movie where you actually care about what happens between the bursts of gunfire.

The high-caliber ensemble is led by the Bogart-faced Wong, who bears the weight of deciding Wo's fate. If he spares his comrade, he betrays the powerful Boss Fay. His mug is a mask of resignation; even behind mirrored shades, the actor projects an inner turmoil. Ng is also strong as the impatient Tai, ironically trying to act as the voice of reason.

The exile of the title is more metaphorical than literal. The men find themselves in a living purgatory as each choice they make leads them down an increasingly dangerous and ill-defined path. To packs the moments of contemplation with as much suspense as the action sequences and is a master of ratcheting up tension through small details.

"Exiled." MPAA rating: R for strong violence and some sexual content. In Cantonese with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd, (323) 848-3500; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena (626) 844-6500; and Regal/Edwards Westpark 8, 3755 Alton Parkway, Irvine, (949) 622-8609.

Los Angeles Times Articles