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Original Title:
Fong juk

Hong Kong 2006

Crime, Action, Thriller

Johnnie To

Anthony Wong
Francis Ng
Lam Suet
Roy Cheung
Nick Cheung
Simon Yam
Josie Ho
Ellen Chan
Hui Siu-Hung
Cheung Siu-Fai
Richie Ren
Lam Ka Tung
Wong Chi Wai

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Story: Blaze (Anthony Wong) and Fat (Lam Suet) visit their old buddy Wo (Nick Cheung). However, it's not their friendship that brings them together again, but an assignment. Boss Fay (Simon Yam) charged Blaze to assassinate Wo, since Wo betrayed Fay and shot him. Yet, Blaze also runs into two other friends, Tai (Francis Ng) and Cat (Roy Cheung), who are not willing to let their old buddy Wo die just like that. After all, Wo also has to take care of his wife and a son now.
After an initial shootout, they collectively declare an armistice. So the five friends now plan to first take on a big job in Macau, to get enough money to provide for Wo's family. After this, however, they will have to bring the mission concerning Wo's assassination to an end...
Something goes awfully wrong with their new mission, though. The man they are supposed to kill is the current underground boss of Macau, and of course it's Fay who wants to get rid of him. Fay is not very pleased to see the five professionals working together at the scene, as Wo should be dead already...

Review: "Exiled" is Johnnie To's present to all of his fans who were asking for a sequel to his great and stylish thriller "The Mission". To cut a long story short and to make things a little bit more clear before there might be any confusion: "Exiled" is a pseudo-sequel to "The Mission". Which means that we get to see all of the familiar faces on the same screen again and they form a professional team of killers, too. Yet, apart from a few little parallels in their character traits, they all play a completely different role. Nonetheless, fans of the "prequel" will instantly feel at home, and most of all the actors prove to be a big plus for the movie. Every single actor has a great on-screen presence and To knows how to get the best out of his pictures. The final result: A worthy sequel, that's bursting with coolness, and is not only an exciting ride for fans of the prequel, but also for HK-actionfans.

The story of "Exiled" is decent at best, but the script's strengths only slowly unfold through the several characters. We get to know more and more about them during the course of the film, until eventually they become the reason why the story is so fascinating.
It's almost unnecessary to talk about masters of their profession like Anthony Wong or Francis Ng. Although the film grants us only an indirect glance into the characters' heads, we nonetheless are drawn deep into the world of these guys. Yes, they are assassins, but under the uber-cool surface they are just humans like us. The actors give their best in their subtle and professional portrayal of these characters and it really shows.
Also part of the cast is Lam Suet (notorious supporting actor), whose achievements are always underrated and he gives prove of this once again. Then there is Roy Cheung, too. Every one of them develops his own kind of on-screen charisma during the course of the movie and the viewer will soon have taken them to his heart. Unfortunately, in comparison with the rest Nick Cheung ("Breaking News") looks a bit too shallow at times. Simon Yam as the villian can make up for it, however, and his sometimes unintentional and yet also intentional comical, but also cold-blooded performace is really fun to watch. You just have to see it to understand.

Apart from the excellent cast the cinematography is one of the movie's highlights, of course. Cheng Siu-keung, having worked on many other To-films before, is responsible for the dark-gritty color palette and the skillful use of lighting. Since the movie takes place in Macau 1999, right before the portuguese colony is handed over to China again, there are some very beautiful european buildings and streets to be found. At the same time the setting is just perfect for our lawless heroes, cops who don't give a damn what's happening on the streets and lots of power struggles between different underground organisations. Wild West in Asia! That's just the feeling you get with all the stylish gun-battles. Especially the great soundtrack by Guy Zerafa with its outstanding acoustic- and e-guitar sounds, underlines this genius atmosphere very fittingly, as well as the unending dust-clouds created by gunshots. Later on in the film there is even someone playing a harmonica at a campfire!

Actually, western never were my cup of tea, but here it's something different. Johnnie To just knows how to bring the superlative of coolness onto screen. Furthermore, he has mastered to create an incredibly tense and thrilling atmosphere, despite a surprisingly slow pacing and only few tricks. At times the tension is so high that we are just waiting for the stillness to be interrupted and all hell finally breaking loose. And this happens more often than we would have expected! That is, because "Exiled" is more action-packed than "The Mission" and director To even uses this opportunity to show his audience that they still haven't seen everything there is when it comes to shootouts. Clouds of dust and blood are driven across the screen in remarkably composed shooting excesses, and the characters look exceptionally cool in them without having to jump around in bullet-time and with dual-guns in their hands. In the 80s/90s John Woo was the man, but nowadays it's Johnnie To who manages to bring inventive shootouts on screen with the necessary aesthetical flair.

The numerous shoot-outs are scattered throughout the film in a very balanced manner and when we don't get to see any bullet-ballet then the movie continues to tell its story on a more emotional level. Brotherhood is once again the name of the game, yet Johnnie To doesn't miss to tell his story with a fresh undertone of self-irony and a good amount of humor. Simon Yam most likely is the one with the most funny scenes, e.g. when he is treated by a doctor, wearing only his underwear because he did get shot by a bullet into an unpractical area between his legs, while at the same time he is participating in another shoot-out! Roy Cheung can't couch his excitement in terms when he watches a "colleague" bring down his enemies with a sniper rifle (an allusion to his character in "The Mission"?), and Anthony Wong is told to learn some English because he doesn't look like a Chinese, anyway. There is even a little allusion to his supporting role in "Big Bullet" in which he endlessly sweared in Italian. Great stuff!
As we are already talking about allusions: The last shootout takes place after the protagonists kick a soda can into the air, which is also a nice allusion to one certain scene in "The Mission".

In this gloomy world of gangsters and killers everything takes the course it has to. Karma plays a big part in this movie as it does in many To-works and so you won't be too surprised by what's coming to you, despite some nice clever story pieces. If there is one thing to criticize on "Exiled" it is that it feels like being composed until the very last scene, which also makes it quite predictable. To delivers exactly what his audience wants to see and this with icing on the cake.
So, in the end you can't help but to think that To took the best out of his former movies and put it into this one. Of course, this means that some of the scenes look a bit artificial. Concerning the story and some of the coincidents there are some moments where you normally would have groaned in disbelief, but To always succeeds in adding a wink and a good amount of self-irony to these scenes without risking to destroy the overall atmosphere of his work. There is one certain scene, where this exceptional humor really shows off, namely when right before the showdown our "heroes" enter the headquarter of the villian, already being a bit drunk and ask for the ambush and as soon as they are in the midst of it they first make a few photos at an automat.

Johnnie To manages perfectly to play into the hands of his actors and they return the favor with pleasure. At the end, "Exiled" might not be as coherent and great for some viewers as "The Mission", but To really can make up for it with the coolness of his characters, the humor on the one hand and the gritty-nihilistic atmosphere on the other, as well as with some very slick shootouts.
"Election" made me worry that To would lose his edge, even if "Election 2" proved to be quite good, but here To proves once more without a doubt that he is the number 1 of HK-action & crime at the moment. "Exiled" might not be as profound as some of To's other works, but it is unbelievably entertaining and customized right for the fan of high-quality HK-action. A Must-See!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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