Johnnie To manifests his unique gangster film aesthetics to the utmost in Exiled
. In terms of manipulating the framing and colors, and depicting the male bonding between the five characters, Exiled
can been seen as a showcase of Johnnie To's cinematic style.
The gunfight scenes provide a perfect stage for him to show off his mise-en-scene techniques, embedding the film's explosive tension in graceful actions. The film opens with a gunfight between Wo (Nick Cheung), Blaze (Anthong Wong), and Tai (Francis Ng). Johnnie To carefully arranges their positions to make full use of the depth of field, such that, amidst all the swift actions, they always form a triangle in contrast to the various rectangles - doorframes, furniture, and ultimately, the silver screen. The precarious feeling seems to foretell an outburst at anytime. The scene with our protagonists fighting against Fay (Simon Yam) and Keung (Gordon Lam) in the dome-shaped greenhouse restaurant also makes good use of all the geometric figures in the setting.
The scene at the black market clinic excels in utilizing the contrast between light and dark, and creates rich spatial texture with the old buildings' fire escapes. Various happenings converge in this extremely well-choreographed scene: the transaction between the doctor and the prostitute, two parties urging the doctor to heal the wound of their hitmen, the gunfights between the two parties, etc. The final gunfight scene is just as spectacular. The kicking of an empty can to the middle of the air unveils the battle, but when it reaches the ground, dead bodies are already everywhere. Realistic or otherwise, employment of slow motion and the bird's eye view makes the scene comparable to even the gunfight in John Woo's A Better Tomorrow in terms of aesthetics.
Since A Better Tomorrow, the affectionate yet chivalric male bonding has characterized a generation of Hong Kong gangster film. It returns in Exiled, in a way different from the somewhat homoerotic relationships in gangster films of the 1980s. Scenarios such as cooking a homely dinner and playing by lakeside not only give the audience a rest from the enormous tension at the right time, but also articulate the most innocent friendship that exists only among childhood friends. In the finale, kicking the soft drink can as if children playing football precisely brings up that childhood friendship before they are about to get conquered by the sophisticated and dark triad world.
From the cowboy-like firing by Cat (Roy Cheung) to their runaway to an abandoned quarry which resembles the Midwest landscape, Exiled carries plenty of elements taken from the Western genre. In order to save Wo's wife, our protagonists have prepared to die when they march into the hotel - a moment reminding us of a tournament in a Midwest inn in a Western film. But apart from these heroic moments, Johnnie To also resorts to black humor in deepening the portrayal of their bonding, such as cooking with a bullet-ridden pot and Fat (Lam Suet) telling jokes during their exile.
While the friendship among the five takes center stage in Exiled, the director also attributes each character a distinct personality. Each establishes his own persona: Wo's subtlety, Blaze's fierceness, Tai's slyness, Cat's sobriety, and Fat's rashness. In terms of technique, Exiled can be considered Johnnie To's most proficient film thus far. Let's wait and see if he will have another breakthrough in the future.