Johnnie To is the lone Hong Kong action director who's done his best work in the aftermath of the crown colony's reversion to China. In a sense, the feverishly active To is out of step with history, and as its title suggests, his latest gangster opus, Exiled, revels in that sense of anachronism. Set in Macao during the waning days of Portuguese rule, Exiled is a crepuscular paean to male group loyalty and rueful joie de vivre, as precipitated by the attempt of a Triad affiliate named Wo (Nick Cheung) to retire from the bloody fray. The movie opens with a fabulous set piece on a quiet street in sleepy Macao. Hit men visit Wo's Mediterranean-style home. The furnishings have yet to arrive. but Wo's wife (Josie Ho) and their infant child provide essential baggage. For 15 minutes, To plays with conventions lifted from spaghetti Westerns as the rival plug-uglies make extended eye contact, the tension underscored by twangy guitar reverb and ratcheted in escalating close-ups. The situation, a classic Mexican stand-off, is resolved in characteristically ambiguous fashion, and from there following Exiled's plot development requires a certain amount of concentration. By Hong Kong standards, To's policiers have been fairly down-to-earth, but Exiled, which begins with a tribute to Sergio Leone and ends by acknowledging Sam Peckinpah, exists solely in the world of the movies.
Francis Ng pauses to reload.
Opens at Varsity, Fri., Sept. 14. Not rated. 113 minutes.