Review by Leonard Norwitz
Theatrical: Media Asia Films
Blu-ray: MegaStar (Media Asia/Hong Kong)
Runtime: 109 min
Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case
Release date: July 9, 2008
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Video codec: AVC
Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; Cantonese & Mandarin
DD EX 5.1
Feature & Bonus: Traditional Chinese, Simplified
• Making-of (12:04)
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.
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
Original SD TOP
vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM
(CLICK to ENLARGE)
Original SD TOP
vs. Blu-ray BOTTOM
(CLICK to ENLARGE)
Audio & Music:
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.
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.
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.
Something that Johnnie To says in the Making Of
featurette put me in mind of HBO's The Wire, then
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.
September 6th, 2008