Johnny To has returned with yet another HK gangland movie following his Election movies, and with the casting of the usual suspects in lead roles, it might, to some, become quite tiresome after a while. Not that the actors are bad in their roles, but perhaps with too much familiarity too soon, it may become difficult to tell one apart from the other, or at least character wise.
Nick Cheung plays Wo, a man exiled for his misdeed against Boss Fay (Simon Yam), and who has returned and settled down in Macau with is wife (Josie Ho) and infant child. Sent to finish Wo off is Anthony Wong's Blaze, and Fat (Suet Lam). However, standing in their way is Tai (Francis Ng) and Cat (Roy Cheung), who will not let their buddy go down without a fight. In truth, all of them were buddies once, and having some sent on a mission to finish off another, this broke down their relationship, becoming a decision of forsaking personal friendship for the call of duty.
And it is precisely the themes of brotherhood, loyalty and honour that make this film a worthwhile watch, despite its cliches in characters and familiar actors taking on the roles. You can probably think of no better other. Would you defy orders and give up your mission, thus transforming from hunter to prey, or would you seek a compromise in order to save your own skin? Triad life is always black and white - if you're not with somebody, then you're against him. Told in two distinct acts, it's almost like watching a Japanese "ronin" movie, given how the storyline developed, and the issues and dilemma faced by our merry men.
The film is quite 80-ish in presentation and storyline, and filled with plenty of beautifully choreographed poetic violence and gunplay, reminiscent of how John Woo would do his, but minus the doves and nursery rhymes and music. There are enough tension filled moments with its numerous mexican standoffs, which to me are the highlights of the movie. The excellent stringed soundtrack playing in the background building tension during the calm moments, before erupting into a free-for-all, all-man-for-himself, who-shot-first pumping of lead into the air, keeping you guessing who will emerge unscathed. The pace is deliberately slow most times, in order to build up to the chaotic crescendos of blazing guns. And to some it might be a tad frustrating with many "poser" moments where the ensemble cast stand around, shades on, with a gun in one hand and a cigarette in the other, for good measure. They make good posters, but to the impatient, they'll scream to have things move on.
There are plenty of supporting characters like Cheung Siu-Fai as a middleman broker, Gordon Lam as an upcoming gangland boss, and Ritchie Ren's take as a sharpshooting cop. Again their familiar faces lend some weight to their roles, it doesn't add more depth as compared to the leads. Simon Yam is again the crazed and charismatic leader of the mob, with Francis Ng taking on a more subdued role together with Anthony Wong, who actually had the best role amongst the offering as the man faced with the colossal task of deciding where his loyalties lie.
Unlike Election with its political undertones, Exiled in my opinion steered quite clear and is what it is, a good old fashioned HK triad picture with heavy focus on friendship and brotherhood. Perhaps the only observatory comment made is the ineffectiveness of the police, more due to cowardice rather than corruption.