Helmed by celebrated director Patrick Tam after a 17-year sabbatical, one can't help but wonder if he was a bit rusty as he brought this story to life. We intrude on the unhappy family of Chow (Aaron Kwok), a small-town stir-fry chef with a gambling problem who has trouble providing for his common-law wife Ling (Charlie Young) and their ten-year old son Boy (King-to Ng). In fact, Ling is packing to leave as the film begins, and when Chow catches her he gives her a bit of a beating to whip her back into shape. Boy is suitably traumatized and longs only for a calm home.
It isn't to be. Ling does eventually abandon the family, leaving Chow to take care of his son, which he is utterly incapable of doing. Soon he pulls Boy out of school and the duo go on the lam to a small Malaysian city where Chow intends to hide out from the hoodlums to whom he owes money. In a fleabag hotel, Chow hooks up with the hooker down the hall and is so negligent of Boy that when the youngster runs away to find his mother, Dad doesn't even notice until the next day.
The story goes from grim to grimmer when Chow basically gives up and realizes that his best survival tactic will be to turn his son into a criminal, and soon enough, Boy is forced to serve as a cat burglar for his father, sneaking silently into homes to swipe jewelry while Dad waits nervously outside. You just know that can't end well.
There is much to admire in the film. Kwok, best known as a Hong Kong heartthrob who sings hip-hop and does cell phone commercials, goes to the dark side here in a way he has never been asked to in the past. Chow is an appalling character, but eventually Kwok manages to make him slightly sympathetic, no small trick. And Ng is brilliant as the tormented child who veers from a state of total love of and dependence on his father to blistering outbursts of sheer hatred. The movie is nicely shot, too. It's easy to feel the sultry heat of the steamy and overgrown Malay streets. If there's such a thing as a humidity filter, the camera definitely had one attached.
The problem with After This Our Exile (other than the over-the-top and lachrymose soundtrack) is that it drags on longer than it needs too, making the characters (and us) suffer more than necessary to understand what become obvious points. The movie is edited in a creative way, but it could have used a bit less splicing and more cutting. Nevertheless, it's an unusual look into a culture most of us know nothing about, and that makes it worth a rental. Feel free to fast forward a bit along the way.
Aka Fu zi.
You're outta here.
In Theaters: Thursday 30th November 2006
Distributed by: Shaw Organisation
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Patrick Tam
Producer: Dong Yu, Eric Tsang, Li-kuang Chiu
Screenwriter: Patrick Tam
Also starring: Eric Tsang