It's been a long time since I've seen a Hong Kong action movie in an American cinema. Back in the early '90s, with fanboys and cineastes alike going ape over the so-called "new wave" of Hong Kong filmmaking (thanks mainly to John Woo's legendary shoot-'em-ups), stateside distributors took more of a chance in putting HK flicks up on US screens. But as the once-glorious HK cinema began its decline just a couple of years later, thanks to the (mostly symbolic) handover of Hong Kong to China, defection of talent to Hollywood, and sudden deaths and premature retirements of other top stars, production thinned out. Nowadays, only the most fanatic of Asian cinema buffs could name a recent Hong Kong film, aside from Wong Kar Wai's output.
But prolific director Johnnie To, who was there at the birth of new HK cinema, has kept at his game and continues to crank out at least one feature per year. After the stateside release of his Triad Election, he gets another modest bit of distribution for Exiled, a strong, quirky film that opens with a quartet of gangsters descending on the house of a former friend, with one of the four under orders to kill him. After a brief and confusing shootout in which nobody gets hurt, the gangsters then help their old friend and his wife... set up their furniture. It's the first of many funny and strangely sweet twists in an otherwise familiar HK plot setup of brotherly love amongst gangsters. Aside from the predictably exciting gunplay and the charismatic talent (particularly the great Anthony Wong), Exiled's strong characterizations and quiet emotion either stand as evidence that HK cinema is maturing in tone, or simply raise Exiled above the corny humor, broad performances, and incomprehensible storylines that have marred many a Hong Kong thriller.