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So today I went to the cinema to see Johnnie To's latest offering, Exiled. Given the pretty unanimous praise for this film, and my general love of To, I was expecting plenty of good things. However, I have to say I was thoroughly disappointed in this movie.

To me, the film is just a mess. For starters it goes on far too long. When they ended up at the beach I thought it might end (and dear lord wasn't it convenient where they ended up!); after the van raid I thought it might end; but it kept on going. The final third could have been trimmed down substantially and the film would have been a hell of a lot better for it.

What surprised me most about this film was the startling way that this film was so UN-Johnnie To-like. The high amount of action isn't something To usually goes in - almost all of To's films are relatively light on the action front until the climax, and are the better for it. Johnnie To is not Hong Kong era John Woo. Action choreography isn't his strong point. Gripping storylines, such as The Longest Nite or Election are his real forte.

He can do action set pieces well, no doubt - Beyond Hypothermia and Breaking News prove that. Yet again though, the real big set pieces are limited to the beginning and/or climax. In Exiled I think To tries to have too much action and he simply can't do enough of it to a decent standard. What's truly bizarre is the way To eschews his usual, relatively realistic approach to gunfights for a much more over the top, unrealistic style - the shooting of the can and the door at the start for instance. I never thought I'd see something so dumb in a serious To film.

The editing seemed atrocious too. At the doctor's I swear I've never seen a film where so many people shoot at nothing. A vast majority of the action in this film tended to be the viewer just seeing an individual shooting - we don't who or what they're shooting at - they're just shooting and it really did not make for exciting viewing. The entirety of the cinematography seemed incredibly false too. It's as if To deliberately thought, "I want to make this appeal to Western audiences, so lets have lots of night time, low light shots that will make the action difficult to see." I was not impressed by the cinematography at all (which is a shame because Too Many Ways To Be Number 1 is full of inventive shots).

The red mist - that was supposed to be blood - was also terrible. Why Johnnie? Why? Why did you feel the need to add this? It looked stupid and you've never had a need for it before. I have no problem with people bleeding buckets - I love the bloody hallway from A Better Tomorrow II's climax for instance - but this red mist everyone sprayed was just lame.

Allow me to get into spoiler territory here. Another hugely unrealistic part of the film, and which again was so very unlike Johnnie To, was Wo's death. The guy has already been shot a couple of times by the time the group goes to the doctor. Then he's dumped out the window and falls five, six, seven, maybe more, stories down to the concrete below, is then shot a further three or four times, and he's still alive after all that? Oh, and someone please tell me the bit with him the car after all this wasn't real because that was really dumb too.

Other dumb bits - the incredibly lame attempts to make our guys look macho? Why did... whoever he was, always have to YELL whenever they were all in the car? Every scene in the guy he did it and it just did not seem justified. Then there was the smoking after the van raid, and then there was the excessively chugging of spirits near the end. Was that all just a sad attempt to show that our heroes are REAL MEN? It seemed so forced and unnecessary to me.

My biggest complaint in this film is the writing. Did To think having his characters say so little would make them appear deep or something? I did not give a toss at the end because I really didn't feel anything for a single character throughout the entire film. The writing gave me almost no reason to feel for anyone. Two of the five "good guys" have zero personality apart from "I like whores" and "I like guns" and the other three barely had more than that. The Longest Nite did an excellent job in establishing characters and sympathy for our not-too-likeable leads, Tony Leung, and Lau Ching-wan. It's knowing what To is capable of, and seeing how desperately he fails in this film, that makes Exiled such painful watching.

I guess that brings me on to A Hero Never Dies which Exiled felt like some poor rip-off of. AHND is my second favourite HK film (WKW excluded) and it's an awesome heroic bloodshed film, which is more John Woo than John Woo in its themes. It does everything right. It has a real good final shoot out, thrilling small scale actions pieces - the sniping bit for example; there are heroes we care about, partners who share a genuine bond, and a simple coherent plot. Exiled just felt like the complete inverse of this. Johnnie To returns to heroic bloodshed and just makes a complete mess of a film.

There are more minor details I could get into but I've ranted enough. I did like the final bit of the film with the photobooth picture - I finally thought "Nice idea, Johnnie" - but so much of this film just wasn't very good. It wasn't as bad as the terribly nonsensical Election II but it was bad enough and both are films I wish To hadn't made.

Yet I know everyone else seems to love Exiled so flame away or let me know why you think this film happens to be so great.

Comments

adgy
Jun. 28th, 2007 08:39 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed the film, but I saw it more as a tribute/nod to the old school HK gangster flick than anything else. Not really meant to be taken so seriously. It struck me a bit as being very Ringo Lam-ish.

But that's just me.

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