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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz


A Little Background     Openers     


    Modus Operandi     The Scorecard:     

Emotive Connection      Audio     Operations    Extras     The Movie     Equipment




Exiled [Blu-ray]

(aka "Fong juk")


(Johnnie To, 2006)



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Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Media Asia Films

Blu-ray: MegaStar (Media Asia/Hong Kong)



Region: All

Runtime: 109 min

Chapters: 20


Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case

Release date: July 9, 2008



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC



Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; Cantonese & Mandarin DD EX 5.1



Feature & Bonus: Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English.



• Making-of (12:04)

• Trailers




The Film: 8.5

There's a knock at the door. We hear footsteps of someone coming down the stair. An Asian woman, perhaps in her mid-30's, opens the door to two men, one of them standing observantly in the background. Does Wo live here? asks the one. You got the wrong house. . . there's no such person, the woman answers. The two men retire up the street a short distance. The woman returns to her unfurnished flat upstairs to nurse her infant son. Another knock. Two different men in much the same pose with the same question. Does Wo live here? Same answer.

The two new men join the other duo at a small park a half block away. We learn that the second pair has been sent on a hit by one of the two major gang lords in this small island country. Wo should never have returned to Macau after his failed assassination attempt on Boss Fay. The first pair is self-appointed to prevent just such a hit on Wo at all costs.

Wo drives casually up the street in a ramshackle truck filled to bursting with furniture. He acknowledges the presence of the four men, then walks up the stairs followed by the leaders of each pair, while their seconds stand guard out on the street.



Taking his cue from John Woo, Johnnie To designs a familiar scene with two men, arms outstretched, guns aimed – one at Wo, one at his would-be assassin. And here is where the older director's successor comes into his own: While the two men hold their aim, Wo quietly loads his 6-round revolver, and as he does so, each of the other men empty their clips so that all three men will have the same number of rounds to start. It's a stunning ritual. The shootout begins in the proverbial hail of bullets as we see through an open door the mother holding her baby in a side room as curtains wisp in the breeze. Miraculously, no one is killed.

The five men haul the furniture upstairs and repair the damage and prepare a meal.

It turns out these men have been close friends since their school days.

Candidate Bill McKay's famous last line: What do we do now? would be the understatement of the hour, but it's asked all the same. All the while, To's unique sense of humor is keeping us fascinated and off balance.

Loyalty, Honor, Fairness. Comradeship. This is what Exiled is about – from its chiaroscuro beginning to its full bleed finale. Johnnie To has certainly matured from his frantic Running Out of Time (2001) to his characteristic humor of PTU (2003), to the measured inexorable pacing of Election (2005) to this latest breath-defying piece of cinematic poetry. For Exiled (2006), To has assembled a veritable Godfather of Honk Kong gangster casts – all in top form, as they always are: Anthony Wong and Francis Ng as the men on opposite sides of the hit, Roy Cheung and Lam Suet as their sideman, Simon Yam as Boss Fey, Nick Cheung as Wo, and Josie Ho as the determined Mrs. Ho. Check these guys out on the IMDB. They're in everything.


Image: 8.5/9
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVDs, including SD 480i.

There has been a Region-1 480i edition of this movie since December of 2007 and a Region-3 480i from a year earlier. I made a several frame comparisons to the Hong Kong Region-3 DVD. As is readily apparent, the contrast on the SD is too high and is unnaturally brightened. (And all this time, I was quite content with it!) The Blu-ray, besides having greater sharpness and resolution, has considerably more filmlike contrast.



Remember that opening interrogation in Blade Runner with its swaths of light and dark – a motif that would echo throughout the film. Same for Exiled – only more so. The blacks darker, and the lights lighter, with stunning, right on the money flesh tone exposures in between whenever Johnnie wants them plus a varied palette of saturated and pastel color schemes. This is a demonstration Blu-ray image, but it's a subtle one. There is an enormous amount of shadowless and semi-noiseless black. There are scenes outdoors that we expect to be sharp as tack, but seem veiled in a dusty watercolor. The close-ups are scary. I wish I could say the same for the blood, which strikes me as too bright and too magenta. This movie actually looks like it was shot on film, despite all the digital intermediaries and final mastering. Typical bit rates in the mid to upper 20s.


Cropped Segment

Original SD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM







Cropped Segment

Original SD TOP vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM
















Audio & Music: 9/9
One of the real pleasures of this movie is the music, often a cross between Ry Cooder and Moriconne/Leone westerns. The music is mixed delicately into the soundstage, like a cat waiting to pounce. The audio and surround is outstanding. Realistic gunshots resound in proper acoustic spaces, indoors and out, and casings fall to the ground without heightened presence. The four indoor gunfight set pieces are deliciously orchestrated. You'll be tempted to play them through several times to see if the sound editor placed the shots in the correct space and the correct time.


Operations: 7
Quick to load, just a couple of logos to assure us of MegaStar/Media Asia's participation, but no promotional theatrical or video previews. The scene selections are untitled, non-expanding chapter thumbnails, almost large enough on their own to sort out the desired destination. The idiomatic English translation was without glaring grammatical or spelling mistakes. The subtitles remained within the frame.




Extras: 6
The 12-minute making of featurette is unusual in a number of respects, not least is the casual way that To talks about his movie and his admission that he shot it without a script – i.e., from one scene to the next, his actors did not know where the movie was going or how one scene connects to another.



Bottom line: 9
Something that Johnnie To says in the Making Of featurette put me in mind of HBO's The Wire, then I Claudius, then Hamlet: Those that believe themselves to be in control, aren't; those that are least likely to be the beneficiaries, could be. Exiled is this concept in concentrated form. It's as entertaining as it is wise. The Blu-ray has both image and audio going for it. Not to be missed.

Leonard Norwitz
September 6th, 2008




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