Ace Hong Kong director Johnnie To follows up his Election one-two with a more playful take on the gangster film. Gunmen divided over a hit on a colleague with a baby pull together, fend off a rival gang, and vie with the coolest armored-car security guard ever. From the twilit last-reckoning setting of Macau at the time of the Chinese handover, to a pace that alternates lush set pieces with breather stretches, Exiled evokes a tighter Leone western with its cinematic confidence shared by filmmaker and gangsters alike. A pleasure to watch as each scene unfurls its own space and rules, the film boasts a sinuously agile camerawork and warm, even nostalgic, vitality to its look and sense of light. The cleanness of the filmmaking (not even To’s best) is the head-clearing sort, often zipping along without the need of dialogue and reminding us how subpar most slapped-together action scenes are that act chiefly by pummeling.
Composed of H.K. regulars (including Infernal Affairs’ Anthony Wong and Simon Yam, of the Elections), the group of suited gangsters who reunite in Exiled jostle between jokey and righteous guy brotherhood. Their affectionate but fatalistic interplay and crackerjack gunplay are more important than the ambling plot (the exposition of which, be forewarned, might feel vanishingly brief). There’s something about their group bond and the practiced ease of their violence that recalls the elegance of an acrobatic troupe as they thread bullets through space, then clown around or dispute duty offstage. Exiled is light enough to avoid the aggrandizement of either westerns or Hong Kong action films, but not cynical, ultimately resting upon a photo of its gangsters as kids.
Opens August 31