Wo (Nick Cheung) is an ex-gangster who was exiled to Macao by Boss Fay (Simon Yam) but has since settled down quietly with his wife (Josie Ho) and infant son. Some hope. Two sets of two hitmen are sent to his door, one set meant to protect him and the other meant to kill him, but as they wait they rekindle an old friendship and feel regretful that they're supposed to stop each other with violence. Wo finally does arrive and rushes upstairs to his apartment, with the hitmen following him; Blaze (Anthony Wong) and Tai (Francis Ng) draw their pistols, as does Wo, and they take aim...
...but evidently they couldn't hit the side of a door, as they all emerge unscathed from the ensuing gun battle - well, they do hit a door in fact, but manage to miss each other. Exiled, aka Fong Juk, was Johnnie To's lightly eccentric celebration of friendship in the form of a traditional Hong Kong gangster movie: the slow motion is there, the brotherhood is there and the tragedy is there, all present and correct. Working from a script by Kam-Yuen Szeto and Tin-Shing Yip, the result was curiously touching.
Luminously filmed by cinematographer Siu-keung Cheng, there are tears behind the laughter which offers the viewer a bittersweet experience when the hitmen decide they're not in the mood for killing a man with a young family, or anyone else for that matter. And so the unexpected happens when they all settle down and have dinner together, chuckling about their previous antagonism and wondering what could have set them against one another in the first place.
They get their answer when Boss Fay discovers that Wo is still alive and the outlook appears bleak for the five men, now fast friends who would do anything for their fellow gunmen. When they go to see the Boss, a shooting match erupts which ends up with the big man shot in the bollocks and Wo also with a bullet in him. Off to the resident underworld doctor the five member group heads, but in one of many tense twists, no sooner have they got Wo stitched up than the doctor receives a certain visitor.
In some ways the suspense is dissipated by a frankly langorous pace, as if to savour these men's special relationship for the short time that it lasts. But those actors bring a genuine sense of camaraderie to their roles, and as Exiled draws on and it grows more apparent they're endangering their lives for the sake of enjoying their own company there's a true feeling of something precious being lost. Director To creates a few great images, not simply including the gunfights with their odd burst of what look like red chalk dust coming from the wounds, but also Wo's wife with her baby strapped to her determined to seize revenge, or the men giving up their futures to fate with the flip of a coin. There's an admirable quality to the five's comradeship, and to this film, with its end of an era setting - on the eve of Macao's handover to China - only adding to the nostalgic melancholy. Music by Dave Klotz and Guy Zerafa.
[Optimum's Region 2 DVD has a making of featurette as an extra.]