This film needs no introduction. The latest work from director-writer Patrick Tam, After This Our Exile took home honours from the recent 2006 Golden Horse Awards for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Picture, and after watching it today, it's no surprise why it did.
As mentioned in one of my recent reviews, the storyline of a movie is important, nevermind if the technicalities are great, because if the story doesn't engage, then it's a battle lost, in my opinion anyway. In After This Our Exile, the story is extremely simple, but it resonates deeply, and also because it deals with something very personal, very close, and perhaps, family ties always cut closer to home. After all, the Chinese title is Fu Zi, literally translated as Father-Son, which is quite unsophisticated if compared to the English title.
If you raised an eyebrow in Aaron Kwok's win for his acting in Divergence and thought he probably didn't deserve it, then his role as Sheng will win you over and justify his back to back win at the Golden Horse Awards. I'm sold. Gone are those teeny-bopper bad hair days and repetitive dance moves. Now, with maturity, he adds a certain gravitas to his roles, and kudos too to his willingness to take on unsavoury characters, instead of playing hero all the time. His dad is the perennial terror, one who blows hot and cold in a whim, full of false bravado, and never hesitant to raise a hand against spouse and kid. Uneducated, loud, uncouth, and worse, a habitual gambler, life for his family is difficult, both in material and emotional wealth. Yes, Kwok pulled off this character with aplomb, with subtle nuances, gestures, mannerisms and attitude all spot on, bringing to life a character you'll so love to hate, yet sympathize with at the same time.
And since the "Fu" played opposite the "Zi", and having both of actors pull off their father son relationship so convincingly, with great onscreen chemistry, it's no wonder too that 9 year old Gouw Ian Iskandar took home the Best Supporting Actor award as the Son. His childlike innocence will probably bowl you over with earnestness, as he holds his own opposite Kwok and screen mother played by Charlie Young. He doesn't come off as irritating, and is so much likable and vulnerable in character that you just want to give him a hug. Intuitive and smart, you'd come to love and pity his character very early in the story.
Charlie Young only had half as much to do as the other two leads, and without makeup, she manages to bring out that average every day weary look of a tired mother and wife who had enough. And herein, the conflict begins, from the beginning of the film. Other supporting cast include Valen Hsu and Kelly Lin, are kept to a minimum, thereby keeping the focus squarely on the principal cast.
As I mentioned earlier, After This Our Exile tells a simple tale with deep themes, and is able to draw out emotions from within you as it resonates. In what could be problems that households face when there's a gambler in the home, the movie sets to show these issues from the onset, with the breaking down of family ties and values, and the debt causing financial strain on the family. I guess opposition to our Integrated Resorts would see their arguments fleshed out here.
In what could be an oversimplification of the issue, gamblers = debts = strain in family relations, it is this domestic disturbance that ring out vividly. Broadly it can be categorized into two acts (no, I won't say anything more), but each act focuses on different aspects on the family relationship and dynamics. Toward the end, everything comes full circle, with the son experiencing exactly what the mom has gone through, and it makes the movie extremely poignant. It emphasizes the widely held notion that in domestic squabbles, it's always the children who suffer the fate of the consequences.
Brilliant cinematography and awesome musical pieces complemented the movie well, with plenty of nice piano pieces punctuating emotional moments. The pacing, though slow, is well measured, and Ipoh never looked more beautiful, becoming a character in itself rather than just another locale to shoot the film in. Attention to details are not spared, and the production brings about Malaysian flavour to it too. Some though I predict, may not enjoy the open end that director Patrick Tam chose to finish it with, but it will allow for post viewing discussion, loads of it.
My only gripe, as I just found out, is that the theatrical version now showing in theatres, is the watered down one. The director's cut, clocking in at almost 2.5 hours, get whittled down to 2 hours here, leaving certain scenes on the cutting room floor which were glimpsed at through a series of very quick flashback montage. I thought the film could have gone on and showed us more footage, especially on the father-son bonding (hinted from production stills), which I thought would have added a better level of the understanding about the dynamics of the Fu-Zi relationship.
The second movie this year which used the You Are My Sunshine song (the other is the Korean movie), After This Our Exile makes its way easily into my shortlist of favourite movies of 2006.
You are my sunshine, making me happy when skies are grey. You never know how much I love you.