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Capsule Reviews

After This, Our Exile    (2006)
In a surprising twist of linguistics, the English name for Patrick Tam's latest carries a much deeper sense of atmosphere and tragedy than the simple Chinese title, translated more or less as "father". Well, a formal expression of the concept "father", but quite obvious either way. And if one thing it isn't, that's obvious, for Exile serves as an adept reminder that even the most straightforward of stories may require multiple runs to fully appreciate.

Tam did items like Love Massacre in the past, and hasn't been much of a prolific artist in almost twenty years. This new release, rumored and talked about for over two years, gives the director a respectable shot at a comeback, even though it probably isn't what he was going for, nor is it, frankly, the most astounding, earth-shattering drama to ever grace the silver screen. But it is a sensible, intriguing affair, with quite excellent cinematography, a goodie bag's worth of various ingredients and an at least seldom-visited location setting.

Exile further depicts lean pop star Aaron Kwok in a superb melodramatic turn which has one regularly thinking to themselves, "now that's acting". Just for that kind of pondering about him, Exile surely has merit.

It further puts forth Charlie Young (Seven Swords, New Police Story) as Kwok's troubled life partner, with the couple, A Sheng and Lin, entering the stage as two Cantonese speakers (presumably from HK although that much is never revealed) in Malaysia. Kwok's character works as a cook in a restaurant, while Young depicts a homemaker, taking care of son Boy (Gouw Ian Iskandar). Something's amiss from the get go as Lin tries to get away from an abusive, yet strangely loving, relationship with her significant other, all superimposed over landscapes Tam and crew make clear are quite homey and comfortable.

For a minute there Exile veers close to the wave of cinematic psychedelia that came out of East Asia (and mainland China in particular) over the late 1990s and early 2000s, with a flickering mood of non-place and slow, thoughtful unfolding of events to challenge those who didn't get enough sleep the night before. However, this makes room for a more realistic mindset quite early. Lin indeed makes her escape, leaving Sheng and Boy to fend for themselves as we slowly witness them deteriorate further toward destitution in a pretty but cruel realm where, despite being surrounded by others, they are inevitably alone. Kwok does his job with flying colors, convincing us throughout that he's this lonely, well-meaning character that's so tragic for simply being completely unfit for the world in which we live. No matter what the guy does he can't get a break, from his crumbling family to bad debts that won't go away.

Everyone else doesn't seriously measure up to Aaron, with Young doing her best but ultimately failing to impress. She's OK, yet we like her a lot better in urban, rather than urbane, roles. Some supporting love comes via Qin Hailu (Durian Durian and the masterful Chicken Poets) as Lin's KTV lounge friend and boss. What ruins her appearance in Exile is the horrible Cantonese dub they slapped over her Putonghua lines, hence a reduction to a stand-in sideshow.

Our beloved Kelly Lin has returned at long last from her own mini exile, looking so different and mature we barely recognized the graceful lady. Sadly none of the bubbly Martial Angels stuff from back in the day here. She plays a prostitute granting Sheng temporary relief and haunting memories at the same time. And although appropriately emotional and chilling while engaged with him, Kelly's persona also ends up in a dead end much like most everyone in the film, leaving Aaron to carry it all himself. Even the kid, Boy (Iskandar) doesn't pack too much punch despite showing promise. We wish him every success in the future, but feel there was more that could have been done with his role. As it stands, you feel for him in the few occasions where he starts to (quite genuinely) cry, yet not a lot beyond.

Exile, overall, can be touching at times and certainly there's those that'll find it very moving. It doesn't overwhelm with sheer sentiment, though, leaving its assets clear: firstly, there's Aaron in a prize appearance. Then, the mesmerizing Malaysian landscapes. Finally, that English title just compels one to reflect on what it all means. Taken in that context, After This Our Exile thrusts itself forward, defying a seemingly almost banal story and non-descript characters. Finally, Tam makes sure to incorporate saucy adult elements like love scenes (not overdone) and language. In fact, more F-bombs here than in any other HK film we can recall recently. This humanity is definitely a driving force, but not enough for grand success. Ergo, after all this isn't our latest classic, but it sure should be on your winter viewing list.


Note: DVD special edition will have a whopping 160 minutes
Lee Alon 12/7/2006 - top

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 12/7/2006 Lee Alon

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