Story: Little Lok-yun (Ng King-to) is raised by his mother Lin (Charlie Yeung), who works at a night club.
However, one day Lok-yun's father Shing (Aaron Kwok) returns to his family, and the three live together in a small
appartment without any money. They are poor because Shing is addicted to gambling and always loses his money, which leads
to a bunch of debt collectors giving him a hard time.
Lin just can't go on like this. Her husband is a total loser, whose quick tempered character really doesn't help him make any friends. He may be saying that he loves Lin, but he never lets his actions speak. Instead he even uses force towards Lin at times. Yet, what Shing doesn't know, is that Lin is having an affair with another man, who wants to marry her, and who can also give her financial security. Lin's first attempt of escaping her life fails, because of the alert eyes of her son, but eventually she manages to find shelter at her new boyfriend's home.
Shing and Lok-yun are now on their own, and despite the promises Shing makes about finding a job and that things will get better, he instead handles the shady sort of business. He also tries himself as a pimp for prostitute Fong (Kelly Lin), until he even goes as far as to making his son steal for him. Only then does little Lok-yun realize, that his father maneuvers them right into a swamp of poverty...
Review: "After this our Exile" is a bitter disappointment. The movie can't even closely convey the emotions
it want's to provoke in the viewer. An art-house film, that feels just too cold and emotionally distant to really
move us. That's sad as there was actually much speaking in favor for the movie. It took home several awards at the Hong Kong
Film Awards and Golden Horse Awards, and moreover, the movie is also the comeback of director Patrick Tam ("My Heart
Is That Eternal Rose").
The pictures are beautiful to look at, no doubt about that, and they also stand out with great color compositions and a nice atmosphere created, but the pacing proves to be too sedate, even for an art house flick. What also really needs getting used to is the odd editing, which looks very jumpy and irritating. Still, it's also proof that Patrick Tam has worked on Wong Kar-Wai movies like "Ashes of Time" back when he was a cutter. Neverteless, despite his good eye for the right pictures and usage of cinematic tools, Tam just misses to bestow a heart onto his work.
At this point, I want to stress, that this review refers to the 160-minutes Director's Cut version of the film, which is 40 minutes longer than the cinematic cut. Maybe latter version didn't had to struggle so much with the slow pacing and a repetitive style, but actually that doesn't has to bother us, as like the name already implies the Director's Cut version is always the cut the director actually wanted his audience to see.
The first thirty minutes of the movie depict an introduction into the life of a nonfunctional family, and time easily flies by at this point. After this, there seems to be happening only little of importance. The relationship that unfolds between father and son, which is what the movie acually focuses on and which the title already hints at (Fu zi = father and son), could have been brought to screen in a more compact way. The movie just spends too much time with rather nonsignificant scenes, and some of them, as already stated, have a strong repititive character.
As a drama, "After this our Exile" naturally builds heavily on interpersonal relationships. At first they are actually quite interesting to look at. Charlie Yeung, who is playing Lin, depicts a nice character, who we first blame for being so cold-hearted abandoning her family, especially her son. The constant ringing of the phone, and the fact that no one seems to be at the other end when someone else than Lin picks up, makes us already suspect that the mother has an affair and wants to elope with her new boyfriend. However, the more we get to know Shing, the less we can blame Lin for her decision, and we even start to have sympathy for her and her wish to run away. That is because Shing is actually your out-of-a-book loser. His bad temper and his affinity for giving orders and to criticize, make him everything but succesful with people around him. Therefore, it's no big surprise that he gets fired as a cook, since he can't stand to receive any orders. But that's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Shing's bad attributes...
Somehow the director succeeds in making us pity Shing, at least sometimes. He actually seems to love his family, in his own very odd way, but he just isn't capable to care or provide for them. The question is why, as he just would need to find a job. But he doesn't even try to find one once! He wants to be his own boss, and so he ends up on the streets. The tragedy is that he drags his only son down into povery, too. Lok-yun clings onto his father, because he has no one else than him. He hates his mother, and understandably so, as she just left him. Of course, the little boy can't understand all the details and reasons why his mother left, and so he devotedly and naively follows his father, until this very man forces him into stealing. Only at this point the boy realizes that the things his father does and the way he behaves can't be right. This is also when the viewer starts to develop more and more feelings of hate and detestation towards Shing. Still, you have to give the director credit for the fact that the relationship between father and son is actually quite complex at times. Nevertheless, this is just not enough material to fill a 160 minutes drama.
Something that comes pretty unexpected is that Aaron Kwok ("Divergence") actually tries to act. Only during the scenes in which he has to shed some tears, it's still visible that the canto-popstar has some way to go until he becomes a pro. Unfortunately, despite his efforts, the script doesn't provide him with a character you could call elaborated. Shing is just a bit too rough around the edges and lacks some in-depth. Which is something that really sticks out in an art-house drama. Little Ng King-to, however, delivers good work. The rest of the cast has only little to do, since the script keeps the story threads with them rather thin and eventually just drops them. That's especially apparent with prostitute Fong. There absolutely slumbered some potential in her relationship with Shing, but the movie just doesn't care in the end.
The run-down buildings and the locations, which give an impression of poverty, shine with a special kind of beauty thanks to great cinematography. Technically, Patrick Tam worked on his movie with a lot of care, only the jumpy editing can be quite irritating at times, as already mentioned. Sometimes, it even takes some minutes to realize if a certain scene really happened or was just wishful thinking. Nonetheless, despite all that, "After this our Exile" remains a work that actually has something to offer to your eyes, mainly because of some wonderful outdoor shots in Malaysia. For your ears' pleasure, the movie has an appealing soundtrack by Robert Ellis-Geiger to offer.
Unfortunately, Tam just can't win us over on an emotional level with the end product. The written text at the beginning, which prepares us that this movie might not be for anyone, but that the director at least hopes to move his audience, just makes things more bitter. We never feel moved. Even the somewhat bittersweet ending, which hits us rather unexpectedly, can't move us. Maybe this review might sound a bit harsh, but when a drama should be successul in at least one respect, then it would be to move its audience. "After this our Exile" can be thought-provoking, but apart from that it can't provoke anything in us. That's sad, because apart from the very slow pacing, the movie in fact isn't that bad. It just lacks heart...