So once again we have survived.

Exiled

tn_exiledAfter VENGEANCE heroically bloodshedded me in the face it was obviously time to check out some of these Johnnie To movies that I’ve been ignoring even though everybody and their blood brother has been recommending them to me over the years. It’s nice to see that while Hong Kong action cinema has lost the worldwide attention it had in the ’90s there’s still been some people keeping it alive. Mr. To definitely has a modern take on the types of emotions and style we love from that era. So here’s another one of his more recent ones, 2006’s EXILED.

This was made before VENGEANCE with some of the same cast of Johnnie To regulars (Anthony Wong, Simon Yam, Suet Lam, Ka Tung Lam, Siu-Fai Cheung), some of the same Johnnie To subjects (teams of hitmen turning against their boss, Simon Yam) and themes (the ethics of sharing food with blood enemies). In this one a former criminal named Wo (Nick Cheung), who has been exiled from Macau for trying to kill the boss, defiantly returns to his wife and baby. So two groups of gun-toting thugs come looking for him: the guys who are supposed to kill him (Anthony Wong and Suet Lam) and the guys who have decided to protect him (Francis Ng and Roy Cheung). All of them are old friends and work for the same boss, but they got differing opinions. Wong wants to follow orders and execute him, this other guy tells him that Wo saved his life once so he oughta switch sides, etc.

mp_exiledSo they have a big shoot out, then they call a time out to talk things over. This is one of the only movies I’ve seen where some hitmen come to kill a guy, but end up helping him move.

The plot ends up sort of following the trajectory of some dudes hanging out. They aren’t very decisive about what to do or where to go. They let their bonds override loyalty to their boss, but take their time coming up with a plan of where to escape to. In fact they start flipping a coin to decide which direction to drive (I thought maybe in homage to the scene at the beginning of YOJIMBO where throws a stick to decide which road to follow). At the end there’s a Red Bull can that gets tossed, kicked and shot around, and that’s probly one of them metaphors. They’re happy to let their lives ricochet around until they hit the ground.

They have the same scowls and stoicism as in VENGEANCE, except sometimes they turn into dudes, start giggling and hitting each other. That’s the tone: serious, but with a sense of humor about where life takes you. Funny, but not jokey. Artful, but not dry.

There are some clever twists on cliches, for example there’s a cop who keeps happening to be there to witness crimes but he’s about to retire so he just carefully backs away and stays out of it so he’ll survive his last 48 hours on the job. Another nice touch is when both sides of a gun battle try to go to the same underworld doctor to get the slugs taken out, so it turns into another shootout. I don’t know if that’s more convenient, since the doctors are right there, or if it’s worse because the equipment could get damaged and everything. It’s like having a car accident in the emergency room. The pros and cons make it a wash.

Anyway it seems unethical to me, to discharge guns in the place where you get the bullets removed. I think there should probly be some sort of protocol decided on in case this comes up again.

This one has a woman in it, the mother of Wo’s baby, and she’s no pushover. She sees the guy that came to kill her husband, she unloads a clip on him. Doesn’t matter to her that the movie has since turned him into a good guy. She’s a strong character, but it’s mostly a guy’s movie, a movie about best buds and new friends.

These guys will shoot anybody they have to, but if they can work it out instead they’re open to that. I mean, I gotta love a movie where (SPOILER) the last living guard on a gold delivery is gonna die protecting it rather than be blamed for the robbery, so they convince him to leave with them and split the gold. And then it’s not some question of whether or not they can trust each other. He just becomes one of them.

I think personally I liked VENGEANCE a little better with it’s poetic simplicity and easygoing critique of the logic of revenge. But EXILED is a pretty damn good ode to guns, brotherhood, and hanging out. I want to be its friend.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011 at 3:01 am and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

47 Responses to “Exiled”

  1. You said the action wasn’t the point of the thing, but I was disappointed in most of the gunfight scenes in VENGEANCE. How can marksmanship be so poor among professionals? Is EXILED any better in terms of actually seeing bullets hit people in a way that makes sense? Ah, fuck it, I’ll watch it anyway.

  2. Do all of them they die in some easily avoidable, unnecessary gunfight in the end, like they did in Vengeance? I liked that movie but the ending pissed me off.

  3. The easily avoidable gunfight you go to anyway out of sense of duty or honor or whatever is what these movies are all about man

  4. Nah, Mr. Mouth, EXILED is actually much worse gunfight-wise than VENGEANCE. They’re very Matrixy and spaghetty-western-cartoony with supercharged bullets blowing doors off the hinges and whatnot.

    For some good professional use of guns you should check out THE MISSION and BREAKING NEWS, To’s surprisingly realistic take on the DIE HARD type of movies.

    BREAKING NEWS also has a fantastic “a crazy cop who you just couldn’t kill chasing the bad guy through the traffic” scene shot entirely from the villan’s point of of view.

  5. I seem to recall that the standoff at the beginning of EXILED is pretty fantastic, but that the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to it (though it was still good fun). I’ve been very slowly working my way through To’s movies for the last year or two, and I wouldn’t call this one of my favorites. I actually should have BREAKING NEWS in from Netflix today, so roachboy’s endorsement has me even more enthusiastic.

    I was thinking of checking out FULLTIME KILLER next. Does that one have the stamp of approval from the fine folks on Vern’s message boards ?

  6. Dan, I though FULLTIME KILLER was fantastic, but it seems really be a love-it-or-hate-it movie.

    But it’s probably the one and only action film where one of the main characters could be a regular AICN talkbacker and/or Verdonite.

    Tok seems to really love and appreciate badass cinema – even though he mostly watches it for the work-related ideas.

  7. “My name is Tok. I’m a professional killer. I like watching movies, especially action movies. Big or no budget, foreign or local. As long as they have fresh ideas. Take this movie from a few years back. A guy runs around Mexico with a guitar case blasting people left and right. Not the best movie. But I like the style.”

  8. Is there another To film that you’d compare it to? The premise makes FULLTIME KILLER sound like it could have the oddball tone of MAD DETECTIVE, or maybe the lighter comic touch of RUNNING OUT OF TIME.

  9. It’s way more stylized than other To movies (who could think it was humanly possible!). I think it’s closer to RUNNING OUT OF TIME in its manga-esque prettiness – MAD DETECTIVE looks like A Serious Hong Kong Film, FULLTIME KILLER looks like cheer visual fun.

  10. BREAKING NEWS is worth seeing just for that amazing opening tracking shot, although the abysmally poor accuracy of the shooters is a little distracting.

  11. “Do all of them they die in some easily avoidable, unnecessary gunfight in the end, like they did in Vengeance? I liked that movie but the ending pissed me off.”
    Someone should do a “Hitman marked for death” movie where the hitman in question uses all his money from hits to hire an even better Hitman to kill the hitmen coming after him. That’d actually be a pretty novel twist, wouldn’t it? I mean, he’d still do his share of the killing, but for once the character would actually NOT just accept the huge odds stacked against him and instead actually use his head to try to come out of it alive.

  12. roachboy: “They’re very Matrixy and spaghetty-western-cartoony with supercharged bullets blowing doors off the hinges and whatnot.”

    Hmm, I’m pretty sure the only scene in “Exiled” which fits that description is the opening standoff, at least from what I can recall. I think the rest of the shootouts are relatively grounded; the shootout in the doctor’s place has a particularly awesome shot of the main characters moving down a building, floor by floor, covering each other as they go down the stairs.

  13. Why are we so obsessed with the marksmanship in a movie? If they were all good the gunfights would be over fast too fast and would almost never be that cool.

  14. I imagine it’s quite difficult to keep composed enough to shoot straight when under fire yourself. My personal pet peeve is when you have a stand-off, but instead of shooting each other, they decide to shoot all the glass bottles, vases and/or watermelons which all look supercool in slo-mo.

  15. I kind of like it when people can’t hit what they aim at in movies. These guys are under stress and how often do you hear/read about cops that empty whole magazines and don’t hit a thing or criminals doing the same? Or X number of rounds fired in a war for Y number of actual hits?

    I haven’t watched Breaking News in a while, and the last time was on a tiny back-of-seat airplane screen (fly Singapore Air for all your Johnnie To needs), so I wonder if it doesn’t indulge in a little of the “if the camera isn’t pointed at someone, they aren’t doing anything” that can crop up in long-take action, like the similarly-filmed/presented house shootout in Book of Eli.

  16. If online shooter games taught us anything it’s that it’s almost inhumanly hard to kill a person who’s using cover and wearing body armor – even when you’re not in actual physical danger and are not lugging around an actual assault rifle.

    Sure, there would probably be more small wounds than in BREAKING NEWS, but in general the characters’ marksmanship is on par with that of Mann’s HEAT (were they actually rehearsed everything using real guns and cardboard targets) – you just see it from a weird angle in that tracking shot, and that’s why their behavior looks sorta ridiculous.

    I’d bet no one would complain about the marksmanship if the camera was with the cops hiding behind that car and trying to peek and shoot while being firing at from all sides.

  17. The two things about Exiled that make it must see are 1) the presence of Anthony Wong, who is like the Chinese Morgan Freeman, bringing gravitas and likeability to all of his roles, and 2) the fact that Simon Yam, who usually has to play a level-headed mentor type, gets to let his freak flag fly and act stone cold crazy. His table flipping scene is priceless.

  18. Simon Yam has done his share of crazy. ELECTION, FULL CONTACT, etc. And for maximum Anthony Wongness, BEAST COPS is pretty much BAD LIEUTENANT – PORT OF CALL: HONG KONG.

  19. ironcupshrug – Excellent point about absence of camera attention papering over dubiousness. People who haven’t seen The Mission should skip this comment: Watched the mall shoot-out from that movie carefully once, and the geography didn’t add up – he’s walking here, this guy’s hiding there, the mirror’s moving there, how could this really work? It feels right because he gives you the parts and lets you put them together and your personal assembly makes you less likely to check the work, but on some level it IS kinda … I can’t say the name. Kinda “post-action”.

    Hopefully I’m just being unimaginative about how things are moving when the camera’s pointed away. Cool sequence either way.

  20. Hey, Yam was calm as fuck in ELECTION 1-2… for the most part.

  21. I really liked this movie. I have not seen as much as To’s work as a number of you guys so maybe you are being hard on the movie since you are comparing it to other stronger films in To’s catalog but I can’t see why you wouldn’t like this film. It does has a very deliberate pace and it is a very character driven film, but it has some great action scenes. (SPOILER) I really like how To keeps upping the anti once the group decides to help their friend. First, things go bad on the job they take, then as Vern mentioned it only gets worse when they try to visit the doctor afterward. This escalation from bad to worse and playing with genre conventions really made the movie for me.

  22. How is To’s last name pronounced? I was assuming like “toe” but I realize it could also be like “two” or something else. Anyone know?

  23. Love this film.

  24. I don’t have anything against the “heroes” dying in the end per se. It’s just the stupid “Fuck it. We die anyway, lets just run towards the hundred henchmen without any cover and get shot” – endings. Hate it. I’m always thinking: “Damn. Those fuckers didn’t even try to come out of it.”

  25. Anthony Wong is great, but he`s claim to be the asian Cage must surely be Ebola Syndrome. Also, I once saw him presenting Ringo Lam`s Full Contact, where the moderator asked how Ringo Lam directed him in what he think is his finest performance. Wong told this anacdote; “Well, Ringo never spoke to me, so I didn`t know if he liked my performance or if he hated it. I finally asked him how I should react in a certain scene and he exploded, yelling “Stop bothering me! I never ask you how I should direct, so why do you ask me how you should act?”

  26. Was Anthony Wong in both EBOLA SYNDROME and UNTOLD STORY? I have the latter movie and heard Wong was great in it (won an Asian Oscar or something), but never got around to actually watching the thing.

  27. That is hillarious. Thanks for sharing.

    I never saw AW never give a bad performance (and he has been in some pretty bad films). For full on Wong performance I do recommend Beast Cops.

    Now J-To films (I think I have seen the majority, if not all of them and the man is not off even he is not at the top of his game). I recommend Vern to watch The Mission and Running Out of Time. I also like PTU but not a lot of people do.

    Cheers,

    E.

  28. Wong is great in both The Untold Story and Ebola Syndrome (Really gross films both of them).

  29. “Really gross films both of them”

    Thanks, that was all the recommendation I needed.

    Can’t seem to find BEAST COPS anywhere – is it out on DVD or is it some obscure VHS gem?

  30. BEAST COPS – there’s pretty inexpensive versions of both R1 and R2 versions floating about second hand on the US and UK Amazons.

    DDDHouse (also good source for Shaw Brothers films) have THE UNTOLD STORY pretty cheap as well (got it from there myself last week, haven’t watched it yet).

  31. On To’s name: in the extras for FULL CONTACT Simon Yam pronounces it like “Johnny Doe”.

  32. Hi guys late to the party but I’m kinda pissed, I went and watched Election thanks to all the Johnnie To discussion here and I gotta say, I was expecting gunfights and all that Hong Kong type of stuff, but…did I go take a whizz at the wrong moment or were there no guns whatsoever in the movie at all? I think the most violent thing was some guy got rolled down a hill? We did worse stuff than that when we were kids. Good film anyway, but still, I was taken aback.

  33. Gilmore, how about the part where the guy got a machete stuck vertically in his back?

    The gun control laws are apparently very strict in China, so in realistic Triad movies (or in any Asian organized crime movies, really – Korean, Japanese, etc.) there are no guns to speak of. But they kinda make up for it with all the hammers and big badass kitchen knives.

  34. Yeah, ELECTION and its sequel aren’t action movies, they are mafia movies. Although I still recall them being fairly violent. In fact SPOILERS FOR THE END OF ELECTION doesn’t the new boss beat a guy to death with a rock at the end of the first one? I remember that being pretty harsh, if not particularly graphic.

    Of course, nothing tops the big scene in TRIAD ELECTION. You know the one I mean. The one with the meat grinder and the hungry dogs.

    And roachboy, thanks for the pronunciation. Although I’m so used to saying it the wrong way…

  35. That one scene, can’t remember if it was the first or 2nd ELECTION film, where the couple is walking up the green hill and the guy is telling his wife how he wants to build a house and raise kids — that was a great, GREAT scene to me, with beautiful music and a simple but poetic message. Definitely more memorable than the violent parts. You just have to see it to understand.

  36. Í can highly recommend Johnny To´s 1993 urban-fantasy/wire fu/ action epic THE HEROIC TRIO, starring Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui and Maggie Chung. They kick an enormous amount of ass in this movie that Charlies Angels could only hope dreaming of,teaming up against a babysnatching cult.
    And utilising rotating motorcycle-attacks (!!) amongst other things. A really enjoyable spectacle, it´s silly as shit,but awesome as hell! Contains lot´s of weird stuff, but I won´t spoil anything for those who haven´t seen it yet!

  37. Eliza I dig PTU something fierce. Or I did, years ago, when I watched it, despite someone’s description of it/my unfamiliarity with To but for Full Time Killer setting me up for a different movie. By now I think I remember a combo of my expectations and the actual movie.

  38. Mouth, it is in the beginning of the second election film. (SPOILER) I think it is also the location of the last scene as well if I remember correctly.

  39. Preesh, Charles. Was I babbling or do you at all agree that it’s a a great scene? It just seemed to me like a gorgeous moving painting, a Monet mixed with a Joan Miro mixed with a windy Asian Vanity Fair photo shoot, with achingly pleasant musical accompaniment that is also ominous of tragedy.

    Don’t get it wrong — it’s unmistakably To as well, yet it seems rare to generate such catharsis at the beginning of a film, or at the middle of a 2 part series. Rare enough to make me geek out a tad.

  40. Mouth, I age about the elegance of the scene, and I also really liked (SPOILER) how as I mentioned before it bookended the film. That hill was everything he wanted and he sold his soul to get it.

  41. Mouth, sorry I am a spaz, as you most likely figured I agree not “age”

  42. I had the American theatrical poster for this on my wall during the last 2 years of college. I also had “An American Carol” “Be Kind, Rewind” and a 6 foot tall portrait of Abraham Lincoln. It was a sweet bedroom.

  43. Inspector Li & ShootMcKay are correct about THE HEROIC TRIO.

    Sometimes you discover a movie that leaves you speechless, a unique movie that takes turns reminding you of the most ridiculous parts of BLACK MASK, NIGHTBREED, LEGEND, FULL CONTACT, THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR, TERMINATOR, and HELLRAISER (though it’s not necessarily better than all those movies). And it might also remind you of MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE, probably because it has a motherfucking flying guillotine.

    I didn’t know what I was getting into except what I saw in the IFC blurb. Hmm, do I want to watch an action movie starring 1992 versions of Maggie Cheung, Anita Mui, and Michelle Yeoh? Why, hell yes I do, what the fuck do you think I am, some sort of gay idiot who says ‘no’ to my DVR record button when I see that cast, well fuck you jack, and you too, universe, for somehow not bringing this movie to my eyes before, I’m going to correct that now and watch it and you can’t stop me anymore.

    THE HEROIC TRIO’s opening credits told me it was directed by Johnnie To. That changed my expectations a bit, but I had to abandon them rather quickly because this movie’s craziness is unique. The plot defies description, probably because I’m not programmed to handle fantasy & floating babies and because I’m not smart enough to totally understand or convey it.

    Unfortunately, the To-ness is evident in the lack of clean geographical set-up & visual payoff in about half the action sequences. They’re not cheap or poorly shot; the movie’s not post-action. It just doesn’t usually meet our high expectations to actually see fist meet face during a fight, to see the point of impact between the flying motorcycle and the guy who punches the bike in half, to see the exact flight path of poison needles, to understand whether the demonic realm where assassins are raised is somehow actually in a Chinese city’s sewer system.

    My favorite To-ian quality of THE HEROIC TRIO is the music, which in a lot of the scenes reminded me of his LIFELINE, which in my opinion is a movie with exactly one brilliant scene, a scene which is either an example of really cheesy girly romance that I should be embarrassed for liking or is an example of some sweet badass juxtaposition.

  44. I watched this one again more recently after now having seen THE MISSION a number of times, and I realized that it seems to be a sequel to THE MISSION. Can anybody here confirm or deny that?

    Also, To recently released his first mainland China coproduction, DRUG WAR. I am excited to check it out. New Johnnie To is always a good thing.

  45. Knox Harrington

    June 1st, 2013 at 5:42 am

    Charles, I think that The Mission, Exiled and Vengeance are some kind of unofficial trilogy. Not quite sure. I haven’t seen Vengeance yet (kinda tough to find here in South Africa).

    I love To’s movies, though. This might be sacrilege, but I actually prefer him to John Woo. Election Part 1 & 2 are great, and Mad Detective is just brilliant. And man, he knows how to stage action. That deliberate, controlled shootout in The Mission is still one of my favourite action setpieces.

  46. I love To’s work as well. I also agree about THE MISSION. It has some of the most unique and skillfully executed shoot outs ever crafted.

    I think Netflix has VENGEANCE streaming in HD, and Amazon has it for sale or rent streaming. VENGEANCE might be a spiritual sequel to THE MISSION and EXILED, but I think that EXILED might be a direct sequel to THE MISSION that continues the story of the same characters.

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