Lo Mein and Spaghetti Sauce



Exiled (Mega Star)

Directed by Johnnie To

Even though all the reviewers have likened Exiled to a Spaghetti Western, it features no horses or guns or vast Spanish landscapes, but it does have plenty of squinting and scowling and good-bad guys and bad-bad guys. Call it a modern multi-genre mashup.

The movie takes place in Macao just days before the transition from Portuguese to Mainland Chinese rule in 1998. On a summery, still, narrow street, something like a tiny neighborhood square in Mexico or Sicily, with little traffic, four gangsters gather. Two are there to kill, the other two to protect, their friend Mr. Wo (Nick Cheung). Wo's wife is upstairs in their unfurnished apartment with their baby, cooking and waiting for her husband to arrive with the furniture, aware of the gathering drama below.

The gangsters are all childhood pals, we discover, and there is a prolonged period of pawing and circling that might be called a Macao standoff.

But orders are orders and in no time there is a battle -- guns blazing, bullets flying -- boy bangers will be boy bangers -- followed just as quickly by a little down time. The lads all pitch in to help carry up the furniture, after which they sit down to dinner and take a group photo.

This dance sets the pace for the rest of the film--old friends, long periods of tension, and a staggering amount of brilliantly choreographed combat, each scoring bullet sending out clouds of red mist, which is a great visual touch.. Exiled is as serious as Martin Scorsese's The Departed, but is at the same time somehow less self-important, and warmer. And there's something about the bad guys fighting badder guys that smacks of The Wild Bunch.

The director, Johnnie To, is one of the steadiest and smartest Asian filmmakers in the business, a sort of throwback to the old Hong Kong days, and he has won or been nominated for any number of international awards.

Exiled has the audacity and fatalistic humor of the best Spaghetti Westerns and some of the better Hong Kong gangster pictures, but with twice the action and far more grace. - Henry Cabot Beck

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Mr. Beck straddles the coasts, contributing features on movies, music, books, comics, and other cultural objects to the New York Daily News and many other publications.