AFTER THIS OUR EXILE (Patrick Tam, 2006)

Set in Malaysia, Fu zi, which is Cantonese for Father-son, is Hong Kong writer-director Patrick Tam’s first film in seventeen years. Winner of best film prizes at the Hong Kong Film Awards, where Tam also won as best director and (with Tian Kai-Leong) for best script, the Tokyo International and Golden Horse Film Festivals, the film couples its plot-driven presentation with Lee Ping-bing’s pale, moody, lovely color cinematography; but the result is prosaic, mediocre and familiar—until, that is, a closing decade-later coda, about five or ten minutes long, that is poetic, poignant, complex and intense. If only the entire long film had been at this level!
     After his mother abandons him to get away from his father, Boy (Ng King-to, wonderful—best supporting actor, Tokyo, Golden Horse, Golden Bauhinia Awards)—this is how he and another, deathly ill child are addressed—must cope as best he can with this alcoholic, abusive, gambling debt-ridden man who loses in short order his kitchen staff job at a local eatery. Before long, to pay back rent, Chow Cheung-sheng impresses his son into thievery, eventually resulting in the Boy’s arrest and incarceration. Both parents love Boy immensely, but each is at loose ends, and when Chow visits his imprisoned child the boy nearly bites his ear off, yelling, “Why did you make me steal?” Chow, of course, did no such thing, and perhaps in time Boy himself grasps this. For now at least, Chow renews the self-pity he was tossed into by his not-quite-wife’s leaving him, and he removes Boy from his life.
     But, as I said, the finale is great—and, no, there is no soap operatic reunion and reconciliation. That would have made me sick.

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