Dir: Patrick Tam. Hong Kong, 2006.158mins.
Excruciatingly long and exceedingly over-sentimental,Patrick Tam's After This, Our Exilelooks like a daytime soap, save for a couple of torrid love scenes which may beits best achievement.
Tam's tear-jerking dramaabout a cook whose family is torn apart by his inveterate gambling and unpaiddebts displays great technical ability (the director has edited films by Wong Kar wai and Johnny To amongothers) but the script, which he co-wrote, is less than felicitous, and his directionallows the cast too much of a free hand.
The over-excited andrepetitious performance from singer/dancer/heartthrob Aaron Kwok risks irritatingaudiences outside the region, and the film itself may well have exhausted itsfestival potential after playing Rome and Pusan thisweek. Theatrical value should not be ignored, however, if the right audience iscorrectly targeted. The original Chinese title is translated as Father And Son,a much better fit than the English one used here.
Starting with a titleinviting the audience's compassion for the characters in a film is never a goodidea: the film itself should do that job. And the first sequence in After This, Our Exile -which shows a boyriding behind his father on a bicycle - indicates that it might be able toevoke such sympathies. The light, the movement, the face of the kid, thespinning of the wheels: everything works.
The same could be said aboutmany of the film's later sequences, which are admirable in themselves. It isonly once they are put together, and the storyline emerges, that doubts creepin. The material here has neither the depth, nor the originality or interest towarrant such long treatment - and the more it perseveres, the less appealing itbecomes.
Cheong-Shing (Kwok), a cook with a gambling addiction he seemsunable to beat, is left by Lin (Charlie Young) the mother of his child, despitehis efforts to stop her in clumsy, violent but somehow sincere manner. When hetries to trace her through friends and acquaintances, they all turn a deaf ear,mostly because of his attitude.
For Cheong-Shingis a whiner who can never understand why things are not going his way and alwaysconvinced that the world is out to persecute him. Hedecides he needs to attack others before they attack him - but in the processonly alienates those he meets.
Boy (GowIan Iskander), his son, has been left in his care - butthat is exactly what Cheong-Shing cannot do as he is constantlyrunning away from loan sharks he cannot repay. His schemes to make money, allof them particularly unclever, fall through one afterthe other, including his attempt to pimp for a girl (Kelly Lin) staying in thehotel room next to them.
At the end of his verylimited wits, and having been thoroughly beaten up by his debtors, he turns tohis son, whom he adores, and attempts to make a thief out of him. The scene inwhich Boy enters a strange flat, hides in a closet and witnesses a pair ofparents tending to their own very sick son is one of the more cloying momentsof the proceedings.
The best sequences in the pictureare the two love scenes. The first comes early on, between Cheong-Shingand Lin, and starts with her rejection of him before she gradually melts, despiteher sorrow and despair, to hold him for one last time. The second concerns a clinchwith the girl next door, which Tam cleverly intercutswith the first love scene to portray the different type of relationship Cheong-Shing entertains with each of these women.
Aaron Kwok, in the lead,needs more relaxed parts to show his best form; Charlie Young seems betterfocused in the early scenes, but when she returns as a married woman in aluxury home she looks much less confident and interesting. As for Iskander, he is the kind of little cutie who can stealscenes from grown-ups if they don't pay enough attention.
Splendidly shot by Mark Leeand expertly edited by Tam himself, with Tchaikovsky and Scriabinworking overtime to add emotion to the soundtrack, After This, Our Exile would gain vastly by losing at least a thirdof its length, a task that shouldn't be too difficult for a master editor. Butwhat can be done with the filmsy screenplay isanother issue altogether.
Chiu Li Kuang
Robert Jay Ellis-Geiger
Gow Ian Iskander