After This Our Exile: A Review

If you’re going to do it, do it right,” as George Michael once sang. So I did. I legged it down to the Broadway Cinematheque in Yau Ma Tei Wednesday night and bought my ticket to the 9pm showing of 'After This Our Exile' ~ Director’s Cut for last night (Thursday). Well, if yer offering, why not take the director’s version? After all, sometimes it’s better than the studio’s version… I know that statement’s just opened up a can of worms. Bladerunner in my corner, Titanic in yours. Yeah, I know what yer thinking. But if the Director’s Cut only weighs in at 159 mins, where’s the harm?

Actually: NONE AT ALL. I’m pretty sure I can tell you right now which bits won’t be making it into the studio cut – cos if they did, they’d have to pretend it really is only a IIB (15 certificate in the UK) and not a wannabe III (18 certificate) after all…

I actually wrote this review last night, about 2 hours after the film finished, but as Blogger wasn’t having any of it, I’m posting it here now: It’s review time.

First off, cos I bet yer all dying to know, is how Aaron Kwok (hereafter referred to as ‘Mr K’) fared in his first proper adult film. And the answer is… bloody fab. Yes, he deserves the Best Actor Award he got for this one (see previous entry). He sweats, swears, gambles, smokes, drinks and shags his way through the scenery, at times blending in seamlessly, at times sticking out wi all the presence of Hong Kong’s answer to Begbie.

Let’s not forget Charlie Yeung. She ably demonstrates how to take a beating from yer gravely misunderstood husband, all the while plotting happier days… And yet, once she’s run off and completed her victory, ending up marrying a clean-living, respectable (suit-wearing) man, you realise he bears more than just a passing resemblance to her ex. Coincidence? Or is Patrick Tam, the director, trying to tell us summat? That no runaway wife can really let go? Or that she just wanted the same man, but straightened out and on the level for a change?

The little lad playing the recipient of 90% of Mr K’s gamut of emotions is wee Goum Ian Iskandar. Tiny at barely 9 years old, he’s a fantastic little griper and smiler. And I don’t like kids. He does the job, richly deserving his Best Supporting Actor award at the 43rd Golden Horse Film Awards in Taiwan at the weekend.

So what’s it all about, Alfie? Right then, don’t go looking for action and adventure, or even pleasant melodramatic nonsense. This could all be summed up by the very last very minutes of the film, except it would mean nothing. In the same way as you pass up the opportunity to crack a private joke to someone not in on it, knowing “you had to have been there”, this film’s beauty is in the telling.

Shing (Mr K) is a chef, and not a very good one (spot the joke throughout the movie). He’s also a compulsive gambler and not good at that, either. Throw in a temper born out of frustration at the life he’s ended up living, and you have an explosive little man you’d not want to talk back to over the dinner table. His wife, the long-suffering Lin, has decided enough is enough. Knowing he won’t change, and that they’re only actually common-law married, she opts to run off with her bit on the side – a handsome young man in a smart suit who’s obviously been giving her more than just his friendly shoulder to cry on while the husband’s been out gambling. (Cue a rather amusing scene in which the husband is told he’s not as good-looking as the boyfriend. Who is also played by Mr K. Obviously after a proper shave and a scrub with a wire brush, though.) The attempt fails ~ wee ‘Boy’ (as he’s referred to by his parents) clocks the escape attempt, and inadvertently causes disaster by running off to fetch Dad, naiively thinking that he’ll bring Mam home and make everything all right again.

Wrong. After doing “everything a man could do” to try to persuade his wife that he still loves her – which he does genuinely seem to do – Shing thinks everything is sorted, and home life slowly returns to some semblance of normality. However, his efforts have not assuaged the wife, Lin, by any stretch of the imagination – someone should have told him that a good meal and a damn good shagging do nothing to wipe out all the humiliating, lying and neglecting he’d been doing.

She makes her escape and Shing is left to pick up the pieces, with nagging Boy asking him repeatedly why mam Lin won’t come home – if they could even find her. His standard reply “because she doesn’t want you, so stop crying about it” belittles the wee lad into giving up. At least when his dad’s around to hear him. It’s only later that Boy tells his father to his face: it was him she didn’t want, not Boy.

Things go from bad to worse for a time: Shing loses his job after a particularly loud fit of rage, Boy can’t get money out of him to pay his school bus fee and therefore is ashamed to run all the way to school, and the neighbours are laffing their arses off at poor wife-less Shing, humiliated and unable to control his son. When loan sharks arrive to rifle through their home, Shing grabs the boy and they move out. Things get better for a time – Boy is happier and even gets in contact with his mam Lin, whom he goes to see (and encounters a rather shocking photo: Lin has married her bit on the side, and he can’t believe the man in the photo is so handsome. We can: it’s Mr K.). Things get a whole lot better and sweaty for Mr K, as he finds his new next-door neighbour is a five star stunner. A happy time follows for Mr K and Ms Next-Door Neighbour: treating the kid to afternoon matinees and such give him time to rush back and give her summat to hang her towels on.

At this point I have to take back everything I said about Hong Kong films and how they never let talent get their, er, talent out for the sake of box-office takings. While we always get to see the girls get their pretty pins out (and sometimes even the two points they’re hired for), it’s a rare thing for the male lead to show us what he’s made of. Obviously the director here shared my opinion that, in some cases, it’s worth it. Especially with a gym-ad poster boy like Mr K doing the clothes-shedding. I was extremely glad the lights were low in the theatre and me mates were a couple of rows in front of me. Right about the moment that Mr K’s boxers hit the floorboards. Saved me making excuses for me red face in such a cold theatre, anyhow.

Talking of scenery, Malaysia was well used here. Filmed entirely over there, Patrick Tam seems to have found all the best places to point out the pros and cons of hauling yer son around the dusty bits, trying to steal int middle of night, and of course, the lake. Achingly beautiful, Mr K had me fooled as to what he planned to do with it.

And that’s another thing: addicted to gambling, unable to ‘speak’ to people and incapable of showing anyone real affection he might have been, but he was still a strong character. So much happened to him that should have tipped him over the edge, but instead he continued to blame everyone else and get on with it. Unbelievable. And almost admirable in his refusal to give up.

And on that point, I’ll love you and leave you. I’m still mulling over all the important stuff that was said without any words, and the way it was all pulled together so well. 159 mins of the story of a boy’s broken relationship with his parents, and I didn’t look at me watch once? Bloody ‘ell, must have been good…

Think Wong Kar-Wai does family break-ups, with the shagging scenes left it, and you’ve got a pretty good summation. The director, in a prologue-type note, asked that we only be moved by the events and their meanings, not by the actors’ whirlwind emotions relating it. I was. I’m glad this won Best Film at the Taiwan Awards. It deserved it.

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3 'aye's:

Gina said...

Thanks for the lovely review! Can't wait to see this although I probably won't get to see the Director's Cut until the DVD is released *grumbles*

YTSL said...

Read your review in the wake of hearing of AFTER THIS OUR EXILE's sweep at the HKFA. Very nice and well done -- to you as well as Patrick Tam and co.! :)

Soupdragon said...

Lovely sweep, yes indeed! But, yet again, no Best Actor for Aaron... It's just not right, I tell you!

:)

Ta for reading!

SD