This week’s Asian crime movie I will examine is Exiled (2006) – a not so ‘typical’ gangster movie with some serious ‘Asian’ flare and a seriously awesome shoot out scene.
From the first 40 or so minutes, I quickly learned that Exiled isn’t about cops v baddies. Instead, it deals with some complicated themes around how life isn’t black and white, neither is the criminal underworld for that matter. In fact, there are people who work for the underworld that have shades of ‘morality’, but for whatever reason get caught up in gangs and criminal activity. The story centres on Tai, a reformed hit man who is banished from his gang and goes to Macau to start a new life, crime free. His fellow hit men friends show up in Macau on the orders from their Hong Kong boss to ‘take him out’. The men had a crisis of conscience when they realise that Tai has a wife and baby. The first ten minutes felt like thirty minutes, as the pace and overall feel of the movie was lethargic. Even the background sounds, music sequences and dialogue were….slow.
Aside from the disappointing feel of the first ten minutes, I quickly identified the setting – Macau. As the camera was panning around the small village in Macau where Tai and his family were living, I thought that this was the ideal place for an exiled criminal – its discreet, it’s like any other neighbourhood on the fringe of a major city. The housing commission-style villas of Macau got me thinking about my own cultural heritage – my grandfather was born in Hong Kong during the 1930s to a Portuguese mother. So as I was looking at the scenery, I was thinking about how my own grandfather and his family were crammed in an apartment not too dissimilar to Tai and his family. Making my own personal connections to the setting by extension allowed me to better relate to Tai and his struggles.
Exiled is another example of what I have dubbed ‘cultural sovereignty’ – the cultural tensions that exist between East Asian countries. For instance, in the brilliant shoot out scene as previously mentioned, an ‘old school’ gangster named Uncle Fortune is having a heated discussion with his young associate. Uncle Fortune explains; “we’ll all be the same people under the new regime. We are Chinese”. In order to understand what Uncle Fortune was alluding to, one must have some knowledge of the geo-political situation in East Asia. I don’t want to bore you with a history lesson, so all you have to know is that in 1999 (a year after the film is set in) ‘ownership’ of Macau was signed over to China after Portugal withdrew its administrator status (Martins, D 2013, p4). Therefore, China controls not only Macau but also Hong Kong. The younger criminal counters Uncle Fortune by saying; “we’re from Macau. But Boss Fay is from Hong Kong”, which suggests that the younger generations in Macau are resisting the cultural and political influence of China. Perhaps the older generations in Macau do not value their sovereignty as much as the younger generations? Given that Exiled is set in 1998 and the movie was released 2006, this is not a mere coincidence. The producers intended to comment on these cultural issues through the crime genre. As Bridgens (cited in Coffey 2007, p4) states, autoethnography is sometimes the only way to give voice to marginalised groups on the periphery and to some extent, I was able to shed light on a largely ignored issue.
While, Macau and Hong Kong are not sovereign nations, can they still be considered as having separate cultural identities that differ from mainland China?
Coffey 2007, ‘The place of the personal in qualitative research’, Qualitative Researcher, issue 4, p1-12.
Martins, D 2013 ‘the Asian screen: the state of Asia’s film industry and the emergence of transmedia focus Macau’, Hexagon Concepts: media think tank, September, viewed 15 September 2014, http://www.scribd.com/doc/172962172/The-Asian-Screen-3-Macau-film-industry-casinos-gambling-with-transmedia#download