Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


Hong Kong, and by extension China, has produced many slick crime films glorying in the kinetic cinematic possibilities of gun play and violence. Quentin Tarantino has publicly stated the huge effect this mini genre has had on his own work ('Reservoir Dogs' owes more than a little to 'City on Fire', for instance), and some directors, like John Woo and the Pang Brothers, have moved on to Hollywood with varying success. Others have chosen to remain and carry on this very Eastern tradition. The new kid on the block is Johnnie To and with 'Exiled' he shows himself to be a director with wit and warmth, as well as style.

The story begins intriguingly. After attempting, and failing, to kill a gangland boss, Wo is targeted for death. Things are complicated, however, when two of his childhood friends are sent to do the job, while another two come to protect him. Will friendship win over duty? The friends' solution to this dilemma spins off into a wild and often funny tale of loyalty, guns and the search for a home.

That this movie is peopled by gangsters should not fool the viewer into thinking this is just a crime movie. Yes, there are gunmen, crime gangs, robberies and double-crosses, but this is really a Western, albeit one from the East. Paying homage to many of the great westerns of the past, 'Exiled' has many lengthy (and bizarre) standoffs before ever a gun is fired. Which is not to say guns aren't fired, because this movie is punctuated by several explosive set pieces, each balletic and operatic, and each consciously reminiscent of the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and the blood battles of Sam Peckinpah.

Set just before the handover of Macao back to the Chinese, all the players in this stylish gangster flick are aware that their time is at an end and a new order is about to begin. With its elegiac score and fin de siecle sense of decadence then, the main influence on 'Exiled' is Sam Peckinpah's 'The Wild Bunch'. The story, improvised and often absurd though it is, follows the trajectory of Peckinpah's movie, most especially in the gangsters' refusal to escape with the cash when loyalty binds them to a showdown.

To paints a very appealing portrait of his central gang of killers. With their sense of fun and lack of a sense of purpose (many decisions are made on the toss of a coin), they are far more human than any of Peckinpah's Bunch. Aware that the action is the thing, the script does not overload them with needless dialogue (though this sometimes results in needless repetition of lines just to fill a silence), and satisfying though the plot is you're never fooled into thinking that it is there for any other reason than to connect the series of shootouts. It is ironic then that the shootouts themselves are sometimes too cluttered to distinguish just who is doing the shooting. This is a small quibble though with a movie that in its own humble way shoots for the stars and generally hits them.


At 3:22 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a patch on 'Zorn's Lemma' though, right? Phil


Post a Comment

<< Home