Year of release: 2006

Genre: heroic bloodshed

Director: Johnnie To

Action directors: Wong Chi-Wai, Ling Chun-Pong

Producer: Johnnie To

Writers: Szeto Kam-Yuen, Yip Tin-Shing

Cinematography: Cheng Siu-Keung, To Hung-Mo

Editor: David Richardson

Music: Guy Zerafa, Dave Klotz

Stars: Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Nick Cheung, Richie Ren, Josie Ho, Roy Cheung, Lam Suet, Simon Yam, Gordon Lam, Eddie Cheung, Ellen Chan, Tam Bing-Man, Hui Siu-Hung, Wong Wa-Wo

Rated III/R for violence

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Exiled  Exiled

Exiled  Exiled

These past few years have been lean times for many Hong Kong movie fans weaned on the seminal "heroic bloodshed" films of the 1980's like A Better Tomorrow. With shrinking budgets and incresingly fickle local audiences, HK film-makers have, for the most part, been playing it safe with romantic comedies and CGI-infested swordsplay "epics".

But there has been one consistent director who has stuck to his guns -- Johnnie To. Sure, in his other guise as a producer he's had a hand in such fluff as Love on a Diet. But as a director, one can always count on To's films to give you the quirky, thoughtful, funny, and violent experiences that only pictures from Hong Kong can truly deliver. And Exiled is his finest work ever.

That is high praise indeed, since To has created several undeniable classics in the genre, most notably 1999's The Mission. In many ways, Exiled parallels that movie. But don't think this is a Wong Jing-esque vulturing of one's own work. Exiled shines completely on its' own, and stands head and shoulders above any other movie -- from anywhere in the world -- released in 2006.

I'm not going to get into the plot details here, since one of the joys of Exiled is seeing how the movie develops. Sure, it's not the most original story in the world, and there are a couple of fairly obvious plot twists. But To lets the film develop so organically that things never seem forced on the viewer, which is so refeshing in this time, when far too many film-makers seem insistent to jamming scenes that just scream "plot twist" down viewers' throats.

Exiled also showcases To's masterful use of mise-en-scene. Every part of every shot, down to the smallest detail, seems necessary. Forgoing the bloated nature of many recent Hong Kong films, To creates a lean look and feel to the film that is still gorgeous, thanks to stunning cinematography, crisp editing, and a soaring soundtrack.

But quite possibly, the greatest part of Exiled -- as you might expect from To's previous films -- is the acting. What the hell did Johnnie To put in Anthony Wong's kool-aid to bring out his performance? Whatever To did, it worked wonders not only with the notoriously fickle Wong, but every single actor on the set.

Simon Yam is outstanding as the film's villain, Francis Ng becomes the epitome of "bad-ass", and even Nick Cheung manages to turn in second good performance within a year. One is only left to wonder what To could have done with his former mainstay Lau Ching-Wan, who has seemingly left the realm of crime dramas for more audience-friendly work.

At any rate, simply put, Exiled is a movie that you must see if you consider yourself a fan of Hong Kong films. The industry might be for most intents and purposes be on life-support these days, but as long as HK film-makers can keep creating pictures of this caliber, it will keep kicking.