Saturday, 6 October 2007

Exiled (2006)

Exiled (2006)Johnnie To had created a new crime subgenre that I would like to call 'urban western'. But if you want to make a comparison of this made-in-HK subgenre with that created by the Italian director Sergio Leone that is nicknamed 'spaghetti Western', then we could call this 'lo mein western'. That is, if you have food in your mind or a foodie. I don't mind either, I do like to eat and cook both these 2 national dishes. I'm still partial to 'urban western' as it has more universal appeal (despite being a foodie). We can also call it 'eastern western' that sounds like an oxymoron. I loik it. I loik it a loit.

For those who fail or refuse to see that this movie is a western, here's some clues. 1st, a slow soft hypnotic western music is being played throughout the movie. 2nd, the group of main characters are professional hitmen, therefore they're like outlaws in the American West (the title is Exiled, meaning outlaws). But this bunch of old guns are good guys.

If you miss these 2 things, the story takes them to a 'wilderness' in Macau that looks like the desert of the American West (Navada maybe) as shown in this movie poster - sandy, and rocky. If you're still not convinced this is a western, the hitmen set up a campfire in the 'desert' at night, and 1 of them whips out a harmonica and plays it. Yes, a harmonica! Who plays a harmonica these day (ok, I did, but not these days). In the American Old West, it's either the banjo or harmonica (outlaws don't usually carry banjos while on the run. Too bulky). The only thing they haven't done is donned on cowboy hats. Oh look at the poster again for clues, 1 of them is wearing suspenders. Who wears suspenders? People in the American Old West, that's who! (best effect is achieved if you say it in Texan accent).

The pace is somewhat slow as in a typical western. It's about building up of tension to the climaxes of the explosive shootouts. It's also sleek and stylish.

I'm tempting to make comparison of the ending of this movie with several of the Hollywood western classics, but doing so will spoil the finale for you.

Exiled (2006)
The 'dessert' in Macao
This movie is another subgenre in the making; another step forward for the HK film industry. This isn't copying, this is innovation (did somebody say spaghetti came from China, brought over there by Marco Polo, an ancient Italian?). It's so innovative that the IMDB genre classification doesn't even recognise it's a western. Its says 'action, crime, thriller' when it should be 'western, crime, action'.

Another possibility would be to take wuxia, but place it in a modern context to create a 'urban wuxia' subgenre. Well John Woo had done that. Read my description in A Better Tomorrow (1986).

There're many similarities between western and wuxia genres, not the least is the recurring theme of a gunslinger trying to have a shoot out with the best in western genre. Similarly, in wuxia, there's always the young swordsman eager to challenge the best to get instant recognition. Also during these duel to the death, honour and sportsmanship are held at the highest regards. Dirty tricks are very much frowned upon.

I often wonder if these many similarities are coincidental or results of copying. After all, the famous western classic The Magnificant Seven is inspired by another Japanese classic The Seven Samurai. Borrowing, or better still, stealing ideas are common practise in movie industries, and arts in general.

This is a landmark film that opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

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