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The time is 1998. The setting is Macao. Every living soul jumps at every chance to make quick money before the Portuguese colony ushers in a new era under the Chinese rule. For the jaded hit men, they wonder where this journey will end. Against this background of fin-de-siècle malaise come two hit men from Hong Kong sent to take out a renegade member trying to turn over a new leaf with his wife and newborn baby. They soon find themselves in the throes of a dilemma when two of their former associates also show up, intent on thwarting them at every cost.
For more about Exiled and the Exiled Blu-ray release, see Exiled Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on August 20, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Francis Ng, Simon Yam, Nick Cheung, Richie Ren, Suet Lam
Director: Johnnie To
» See full cast & crew
Exiled Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, August 20, 2008
Nominated for Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2006 and Winner of the Best Director Award granted by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society in 2007, Johnny To's "Fong juk" a.k.a "Exiled" makes its debut on BD courtesy of Mega Star Video Distribution Ltd. Polished to perfection and employing the genre clichés HK triad pictures routinely follow, "Exiled" will surely delight fans of high-octane action cinema.
Somewhere in Macao. Two assassins are sent to kill a man by the name of Mr. Wo (Nick Cheung). The men are Blaze (Anthony Wong) and Fat (Lam Set). Two more men Cat (Roy Cheung) and Tai (Francis Ng) are sent to protect him. They all turn up in front of the man's house at the same time. Mr. Wo appears and a bullet storm clouds the sky. Exhausted by the shootout the men drop their guns and begin to repair the house they have destroyed. They all know each other well – the men grew up together, joined the same gang, and then parted ways.
In the meantime, Boss Fay (Simon Yam), the man who wants Mr.Wo killed, is informed about the truce. He is enraged. A new posse of killers is sent to deliver Mr.Wo's head.
Even though there aren't any disclaimers Johhny To has provided for Exiled, it is perfectly clear where the inspiration for it came from – Italian spaghetti westerns. Long, continuous shots, large panoramic vistas, highly-stylized action scenes and a distinctive Latin soundtrack surely beg for a comparison with Sergio Leone's body of work.
Despite of the largely comic flavor Exiled is saturated with and at times over the top action scenes this isn't a film lacking originality. To's eye for detail has certainly helped here as Exiled creates an environment few Hong Kong directors are capable of replicating – the manner in which the main protagonists converse, the unexpected twists in the story, as well as the consistent tempo keep this film away from being a parody. If anything, the fact that the stylistic references are so obvious yet not the only factor that carry Exiled undoubtedly allows the viewer to remain glued to the screen anticipating the next action scene unsure of its outcome.
A regular at the Cannes Film Festival, To has earned the reputation of a man who knows what he wants and, more importantly, knows how to do it perfectly. Unlike fellow director John Woo, who has made a number of appearances in Hollywood, and according to many of his once loyal fans has largely failed to live up to the expectations, To has remained fairly consistent. From All About Ah-Long (1989) to The Mission (1999) to Election (2005) and now Exiled, the director's passion for explosive cinema, literally, has remained unaltered.
From a purely technical standpoint, Exiled shines with its glossy cut-and-zoom sharp camera work (Robert Rodriguez would be delighted by To's knack for absorbing the fumes hot guns produce). The sweaty faces, twitchy fingers and empty bullet shells are indeed given more attention here than I have seen in other recent similarly themed HK productions. Film editor David M. Richardson (his contribution in Tie saam gok a.k.a Triangle was one of the key reasons for securing the prestigious Best Film Award at the Fantasporto Festival in Portugal) is once again in top form.
Exiled Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in Blu-Ray high-definition in 1080p, Exiled arrives with its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 intact. The print provided by Media Star is close to being a reference material – it reveals an excellent degree of detail, very strong color-scheme, and a look free of DNR alterations.
Watching Exiled on a big screen is certainly a revelation. I actually have the R1 SDVD by Magnolia Pictures in my collection and as strong the presentation was it really pales in comparison to this HK produced BD. Those of you who have seen the film know how incredibly important the color-scheme is here and how To's camera captures as much of the fast-paced action (at times Matrix-style shootouts) where the smoke, lighting, and falling bullet shells are given utmost attention. Thus, Exiled truly does benefit from the 1080p treatment the HK distribs have provided. As I expected, the rich colonial buildings of Macao seen in HD further enhance the exotic feel To's film boasts. The detail and texture are absolutely fantastic and with an excellent natural feel, which film purists will undoubtedly appreciate. During the second half of Exiled, for instance, where the gang embarks on a treacherous journey to locate the precious gold cargo, one will certainly be reminded of the glorious westerns Maestro Leone is known for.The sense of vision here is indeed astounding, and the strong high-definition transfer makes it that mush easier to appreciate - the vibrant dusty roads To has filmed, for example, are absolutely hypnotic. To sum it all up, this is as good and natural looking of a presentation, free of digital manipulation, as one could have hoped for.
Exiled Blu-ray, Audio Quality
This is where this disc truly shines. The HK distribs have provided three separate tracks for Exiled – Cantonese DTS-HD Master 7.1, Cantonese Dolby Digital EX 5.1, and Mandarin Dolby Digital EX 5.1. Needless to say I instantly opted for the 7.1 track and you better have your audio system calibrated as this disc offers one of the most attractive 7.1 treatments I've heard thus far. It is active, incredibly loud, and with top-notch surround effects. There is enormous depth in the bass and some of the silent sequences that follow the action scenes are incredibly well-mastered (quite frankly this 7.1 mix reminded me of New Line's Shoot 'Em Up where everything was of exemplary quality…yet I could not endure the film for a number of different reasons, most of them ironically having to do with a different type of quality). Dialog on the other hand is just as impressive. It is crisp, crystal clear, and very easy to follow, just as the exotic Latin soundtrack is – there is absolutely nothing here that you should be concerned with. Finally, optional Chinese and English subtitles are provided for the main feature.
Exiled Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Aside from a gallery of trailers for other Media Star BD releases, two trailers for Exiled included, what you will find here is a Making-Of documentary. It is subtitled in Chinese and English. It is quite generic, however, and it provides only a few revealing comments by Mr. To and the cast.
Exiled Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
With the notable exception of a few scenes where I felt the action was slightly over the top, Johnny To's Exiled offers just about the right mix of style and substance. The impressive cinematography capturing the endless beauty of ex-Portuguese colony Macao compliments a wild story of friendship heavily influenced by the spaghetti-westerns Sergio Leone popularized. Boasting an incredibly talented cast as well, this is certainly a film that shall impress fans of HK action cinema craving what the genre does best - entertain. The BD herein reviewed, courtesy of Media Star, is also a pleasant surprise of the highest caliber. Without a doubt, this is the best Asian disc to reach my desk this year. Highly Recommended.
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