After This Our Exile (2006)

6 12 2008

A problematic comeback for Patrick Tam, but also a beautifully photographed one. All the dramatic faults, of which there are many, can be overlooked simply by the overwhelming sense of visual power contributed by Mark Lee Ping Bing’s amazing photography. It’s not exactly a surprise, considering everything I’ve seen from him looks equally great, but I still wasn’t expecting it to look nearly as great as it does. It’s not a powerful yet subtle drama that Bing is familiar for photographing (with Hou Hsiao-Hsien, usually) but at the very least, it does give plenty of time for the characters to become much more than just exaggerated emotional pawns.

Actually, the story starts out as though it is being a far too simple, far too violent sort of melodrama. The best part about these earlier sequences is that they are wonderfully edited. Taking both elements into account, the first fifteen minutes or so do seem a little like a Hong Kong version of a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, Magnolia, in particular. Thankfully, it starts to calm down from there, but it does give the impression of being a bit too “emotionally eventful” so to speak. Thankfully, the performances save this from falling into PTA’s far too tragic type of vision, and put the film right up with the best “slower” modern Asian dramas.

Aaron Kwok, in particular, deserves a lot credit. His role is by far the one that calls for the most emoting. Even though he is far from being likable, he does seem believable in his own slightly pathetic way. Sure he beats his wife and son on occasion, but he always seems to lapse into a self-loathing mode. At first, his constant whining becomes a little grating, but I think he deserves a lot of credit for making his character seem very believable. He is the anti-thesis of the ideal father, but even then, he does sort of care for his son. Of course, he does so in a very bizarre and unhealthy way.

Kelly Lin has a small(er) part but she might deliver the best performance of the bunch. She essentially does the exact same thing as in Boarding Gate, but her character is just given much more time and space to be explored and fleshed out. The short, Roeg-esque affair she has with Kwok’s character represents the height of the film’s powers. It is gorgeously shot (like the rest of the film) with rapid-fire editing (hence the Roeg reference) and features the two best performers of the whole cast. Such sequences are what make this film so great, even though it does have a few narrative-related mishaps.

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