VerdictIn his early career I often felt Johnnie To fell between two colossi of the Hong Kong gangster genre, namely John Woo and Ringo Lam. His first forays into the dramatic world of bullets and bloodshed seemed to lack the true tension of Lam and the gunplay of Woo, leaving him as something of a middle ground. That though is a perception best left in the past, as he proved with Election I and II that he was capable of matching any other director for their realisations of foreboding and Machiavellian criminality. In Exiled he combines this atmosphere and adds yet another layer to his burgeoning profile with action that is fast, furious and yet also artistically shot. The spaghetti western overtones of plucked guitars (providing a metronomic rhythm in the build up to action sequences), long standoffs and piercing gazes somehow fit in perfectly with the Hong Kong crime genre, resulting in a film that is somewhere between Leone and Lam.
The disc itself is hard to fault, with both image and sound quality ranking as some of the best I've yet seen from Eastern Blu-rays. The only flaw to this as a product is the meagre amount of extras, which woefully serve a film that deserved more in this department. This though doesn't detract greatly from a package that includes a thrilling film, which comes with an accomplished visual and audio presentation.
PictureExiled comes to Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is region free.
As far as the quality of the transfer goes, this is just about as good as one could ever expect this film to look on a home format. The previous DVD incarnation which suffered from an abnormally boosted contrast which washed out many faces and also left shadow detail decidedly sharp, is thankfully now a thing of the past. This high definition version brings with it all the subtlety that the pastel shades of houses and delicate lighting conditions so warranted. It won't be the sharpest film you've ever seen, but this is far from a criticism of the disc itself and has to lay closer to the original material, as slightly unfocused shots are well known to fans of an Eastern industry that has a conveyor belt mentality to making films.
The palette used by To and director of cinematography Cheng Siu Keung mixes pastel hues with extreme darkness under a slight yellow tint and this Blu-ray proves capable at rendering both more than adequately. The flesh tones vary a touch based on lighting but they never seem anything less than realistic. Primaries are suitably strong, though the powerful red of blood is perhaps a little on the overly vivid side, but again, if we're to draw comparisons to the spaghetti western genre, this might be considered more homage than flaw.
The overall result is a presentation that is a unanimous improvement over the standard definition iteration of Exiled. Detail, colour reproduction and flesh tones are just a few of the many positives this image has to offer. There may be inconsistency with regards sharpness but once the camera steadies, or bright light and close-ups are involved, it becomes easy to see why many have rightly lauded this as a fine example of Hong Kong cinema on Blu-ray.
Point of note - for those with constant image height projection set-ups, the subtitles are contained within the main image frame.
SoundAudio options for Exiled consist of Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Cantonese DD-EX 5.1 or Mandarin DD-EX 5.1. I opted to concentrate on the lossless 7.1 track for the purposes of this review.
If you assumed that the visual presentation would possibly overshadow the audio, then you were very much mistaken as there are just as few faults displayed by the sounds offered as there were by the image. The prime areas of importance to this film with regards engineering the mix were likely to be the dialogue, the gunfights and, perhaps most importantly, the score. I'm happy to report that none of these are served poorly by this track.
The speech of the characters is clear and generally holds as one would expect to the centre channel. It was always succinct and crisp in its delivery, with the only flaw I could detect being a slight lack of integration at a couple of points during the film, but this was minor. The gunshots carry just enough weight to be considered realistic, not pushing a ridiculous amount of bass into the action for the sake of emphasis, nor trying to raise the volume of tumbling shell casings too much. The cacophony that is unleashed could have melded into one amorphous lump of noise rather than the distinct separation of multiple individual firings.
The cherry on the top of the cake is certainly the score though, as it is a perfect thread that runs throughout the narrative and creates a wonderful sense of atmosphere. From the plucked guitar strings that carry with them subtle reverberation and gentle swelling bass, to the high frequencies of the harmonica played by one of the characters, all the pieces of this evocative musical arrangement are well integrated and finely engineered.
Consisting of four trailers, Exiled trailer 1 (1:46), Exiled trailer 2 (2:20), Assembly (1:30) and Perhaps Love (3:00), all of which are 1080p and have no English subtitles (or of any other language).
Making of - 480p - 12:04
This is actually better than its run time might suggest, as although it uses a large amount of clips from the film to make its point regarding various subjects, some of the talking heads impart some interesting insights into the production and characters. Chief amongst these is the director himself, who raises this above the standard EPK fare by covering a wide range of topics with earnestness and verbosity. My only criticism with this featurette is that it merely whetted my appetite for a more substantial interview or perhaps commentary with Johnnie To.
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