Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Movies: Fong juk (Exiled)

Another stylized shoot-em-up from Johnny To provides stunning visuals of the violent kind, hung on a limp revenge plot; it isn't any worse for the wear, unless you were hoping to learn something, or be edified in some way. I don't expect that from my art any longer.

The story opens with two pairs of assassins calling at Wo's house, where his wife is home alone with her new baby. When Wo comes home, they come in, and a beautifully choreographed shoot-out ensues. Luckily, no one is injured. It is clear that To is not interested in realism. Wo asks his enemies, who now appear to be his friends, to stay to dinner, when they realize there is no furniture in the flat; Wo and his wife have just moved in, and their belongings are still in his truck downstairs. The assassins help him move in all of their furniture, and help repair all the damage done to the apartment by gunfire. Wo cooks up a feast, and they all sit down to dinner. Then, the assassins sleep over. Again, it is clear that To is not interested in realism.

Wo, we find out, was in the same gang as these four men; they all joined in their youth. These bosom buddies have been ordered to kill their homie by Boss Fay, because Wo attempted to assassinate him (along with one other of the four, whom Wo did not rat out). They don't want to kill him, but their lives, too, are now on the line. So, the five set out to find a dangerous contract job for Wo—one that might get him killed. It's an assassination contract for the life of Boss Keung, who runs the scene in Macau, and it was put out by none other than Boss Fay, who wants in on his business. This leads us to the next stunningly choreographed shoot out, which takes place in a huge (and luckily almost empty) restaurant. Wo sustains fatal injuries, pushed out the window and falling ten stories, then being shot up like a practice target for kicks. Boss Fay is shot in the balls. The four assassins, thanks to a bullet-proof vest, get off scot-free, and load the bullet-ridden Wo into a stolen car. Rather than take him to a hospital, they go to a safe-house surgeon, who happens to be busy entertaining a prostitute when they arrive. He begins work on Wo, but then banging on the door leads to the entrance of the bleeding Bosses Fay and Keung, along with their men. Our heroes hide, but it isn't long before Fay notices that they're there, and starts another shoot out; again, our heroes escape, dragging an almost-dead Wo with them. They bring him home, where he dies immediately on the couch. Outraged, his wife grabs her husband's gun and begins to shoot at them; they run out and get back into the car.

Here the film takes a turn for the existential; the four try to decide which way to drive, and flip a coin. They continue to use this coin as they wander on, when there is a fork in the road, and when the opportunity to commit a crime arises. Soon they realize that their car is leaking gas, and they leave it behind, trudging up and tumbling down sand dunes until they come to a body of water, where they exuberantly wash. There is a temple nearby with one ton of gold, but they decide not to steal it, since the coin toss comes up tails. Instead, they ask each other questions about how much a ton of gold really is, how many pounds are in a ton, and how much does a ton of pain weigh. It is then that they come upon gunshots in the woods; they hide themselves and watch as a policeman, his truck filled with the gold, shoots all of his comrades. They then encircle him to hijack his prize, then agree to all be friends and split the gold five ways. Everyone settles in for a happy evening beside the water—three of the original four joke about how they'll spend their money while the new guy sits playing a mournful, Old West-kind of tune on his harmonica—when the fourth gets a call on his cell; it's Boss Fay, and he has Wo's wife and baby hostage.

The party is over—for the moment at least—and armed with a few bags of gold bars, the four leave their new comrade at the dock with the remainder of the loot and go to rescue Wo's family. When they get to the hotel, they peacefully broker a deal to exchange the young woman and her baby for the one ton of gold, showing the two bags they've brought along, and promising that the rest is in a car outside. Boss Fay hands over his hostages and one of the four takes her outside to get the rest of the gold. On the way to the door, he tells her to run to safety and meet their new companion at the dock, slams the door behind her, turns around, and begins shooting at Fay. Fire opens all around, consummating the biggest, baddest shoot out yet. When the fire finally dies down, the camera pans around the room slowly, dropping in on each of our heroes, who appear, yet again, to have done the impossible, and survived. Then, it makes another round, during which each dies, artfully, and that's it; everyone—"good" guys and bad, has died.

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