Friday, September 14, 2007
TIFF 2007: THE EXODUS
THE EXODUS (Hong Kong/China 2007)
D: Edmond Pang Ho-cheung.
The opening shot, a slow, meticulous dolly backwards down a hallway, says it all. It begins with a tight closeup of a pair of alluring female eyes in a photograph. The subject of the portrait is revealed to be Queen Elizabeth II, and beneath it stand two men in swim trunks, goggles and flippers who light up smokes and casually redirect a Hong Kong police officer who has unwittingly entered the doorway at screen left. These must be cops, pre-1997, and as the frame continues to open up, we notice two, then three, then four of these "frogmen" beating a suspect with mallets and phone books as he struggles violently to flee.
"All the hatred of this world are caused by men," claims one of the film's female characters, but as evidenced by this gorgeous opening shot, much of it happens under the watchful eye of condoning women, and in pondering the question of why the female almost always outlives the male, as well as what they talk about when they go to the ladies' room together, writer-director Edmond Pang, along with co-writers Cheuk-Wan-chi and Jimmy Wan Chi-man, have crafted a sleek black comedy that, strangely, doesn't manifest most of its inherent dark whimsy until well into the final reel.
Nagged by a condescending mother-in-law who only sees value in a man who runs his own business, and long ago demoted to a desk job as a reward for interdepartmental whistle-blowing, bored and complacent Tai Po police sergeant Simon Yam—who we later learn was the redirected officer in the opening sequence—begrudges a favor to a fellow officer and agrees to take a statement from a peeping Tom (Nick Cheung), who foams profanely about a top-secret organization of women plotting the elimination of the male species, one unsuspecting rube at a time. Yam thinks little of it, until the report disappears from the evidence room and the suspect one-eighties his story after a visit from a prickly female senior officer (Maggie Shaw). Eager to learn why such a patently ludicrous story would need to be hushed up, he soon comes to the realization that Cheung was telling the truth!
Artfully directed and photographed (by Charlie Lam Chi-kin) with an emphasis on static, contemplative frame compositions the seem to grow organically from the modernist yoga-zen architecture that dominates the locations, but the concept begs for a playfulness that the filmmakers seem to avoid until the last ten minutes of the picture. The build-up is played with such a straight face that sequences which all but confirm the existence of the assassination club pass with nary a raised eyebrow. Perhaps that was the point, but the shift in tone is nonetheless jarring. Yam underplays nicely throughout, as if his character knows all too well how ridiculous his mission might seem to those looking in. Fine music score by Gabriele Roberto features exceptional piano solos by Aiko Takai.