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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “Exiled,” Magnolia Pictures, 2007]

Watching “Exiled,” you get the sense that director Johnnie To believes that old expression about a picture being worth a thousand words. The film is about a group of old friends, gangsters who grew apart and who are now thrown back together by chance. To hints at what drove the five men in separate directions, but he lets the audience infer most of the backstory from the juxtaposition of two photos: one new and one from years earlier, when the men were still boys.

To, like a lot of action directors, doesn’t have much use for words in general; the most important exchanges in “Exiled,” as in most of his pictures, are of bullets, rather than dialogue. Get ready for shoot-outs, and you better like them absurd-slash-borderline ridiculous. The film is filled from start-to-finish with massive gunfights that rival anything in the bombastic To’s oeuvre. Every couple minutes another sequence begins and men, bullets, exaggerated puffs of blood, and even large doors fly and spin through the air. Whatever else the title may refer to, it also reflects the fact that real-world physics have no place in this film.

Complexity and style are important to action sequences, and “Exiled” has enough of both for ten films. But these scenes also require clarity to bring the whole thing together, something To often misses. Some of the gunfights, like a beautiful (if men desperately killing one another can be described as “beautiful”) sequence in an underground clinic, are lit harshly to create dark shadows and intense atmosphere. But they’re so darn murky, and the exchanges so full of combatants wearing dark suits, that it can be very difficult to tell moment-to-moment who is shooting, who is getting shot, and why. One minute you gasp at an intense blast of coolness (say, the way To stages that clinic scene in a room full of curtains that can be thrust about like bullfighters’ capes) the next you’re scratching your head trying to figure out which character just fell out a window.

Regardless, those scenes are breathtakingly stylish and they add to the overall mood, which is dark, foreboding, and incredibly manly. Heavily inspired by the Western, and by Leone in particular (Strong silent types! Triangular standoffs! Grizzled men smoking cigars!), “Exiled” extends the gangsters-as-frontier outlaws further. It’s set on the island of Macao in 1998 as a change of leadership is about to take place and our protagonists and their “old ways” are about to be made obsolete: think Peckinpah’s “Ride the High Country.” Lawlessness rules: the only policeman in sight is a bumbling oaf who plays the comic relief. Instead the gangsters live by their own code of ethics: one that dictates that you can try to kill a man one moment, and then help him refurbish his apartment the next.

That hilarious sequence comes early in the film and establishes the dynamic between the friends: Blaze (Anthony Wong) and his partner have come to kill Wo (Nick Cheung); To (Francis Ng) and his have come to protect him. After a stalemate, the five agree to table their differences temporarily and work together to get some money for Wo’s wife and infant. It’s the appearance of Wo’s baby, in fact, that stops the first bout of gunplay. The men are killers, but not the cold-blooded variety.

Though the action is a bit murkier than, say, To’s “Breaking News” (2004), the characters are richer and the story more satisfying than his recent (and arguably over-praised) “Election and “Triad Election.” In the end, in the midst of a showdown to end all showdowns, there is one more photograph, and this one speaks even more loudly than the others. It will linger in your memory long after the “cool” parts with the guns have faded.

“Exiled” opens in New York on August 31st (official site).

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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