Exiled Johnnie To

Four triad gangsters (Anthony Wong, Suet Lam, Francis Ng, Roy Cheung) arrive in Macau in pairs. Two plan to kill traitor Wo (Nick Cheung), the other two plan to protect Wo. Confronted with their target’s new wife and child, the group decides to help Wo pull off a final job in order to provide for them. They are set up and find themselves pursued by the evil Boss Fay (Simon Yam), who seeks vengeance on Wo for attempting to kill him years earlier. In recent years, Johnnie To has established himself as one of China’s pre-eminent purveyors of post-handover Hong Kong atmosphere. In 1999, he released The Mission, a film about tested loyalties amongst a group of triad bodyguards. Exiled acts as a sort of sequel to The Mission — much of the same cast appear in new roles, with similar conflicts. While Wong, Ng and Yam deliver what might by now be expected of them — stoic detachment, enraged moralising, and grotesque sadist villainy — a pleasant surprise presents itself in Nick Cheung’s affecting Wo. Cheung, memorable for comedies like The Conman and Tricky Master 2000 (alongside the likes of Andy Lau and Stephen Chow), has made explicit in this and other recent collaborations with To his incredible command for empathy. Even after his drawn-out, inevitably tragic exit from the film, Cheung’s Wo remains ever-present, imprinted in the guilt-ridden anxieties Wong and Ng convey through not only their bickering but their ultimate reconcile and solution. Exiled is not To’s best work to date, but it is the work of a maturing artist, one gradually adopting a formal patience that communicates the universal appeal of his content transcendently, setting it apart from its genre and judging it in the broader arena of international dramatic narratives. (Milkyway Image Ltd.)