After This Our Exile

After This Our Exile ★★★★½

I watched this film because I need to think about the relationship between the father-and-son relationship and Chinese-language cinema. I am unprepared for this. This is an allegory of Hong Kong after its handover in 1997. Here are 4 clues:

1) Opening/ Framed narrative:

Patrick Tam in the opening insert a message, hoping the audience can find something "touching," "meaningful," and "enduring reflection."

2) Title:

The title of this film is "After This Our Exile" - when you look at the Chinese title, it should be "Father and Son" - but it's a very different title in English translation. A similar instance is Ann Hui's Ordinary Heroes (Chinese: Ten Thousands Words)

3) Characterisation:

The evilness and moral downfall of the father can be read as capitalism or HK taking advantage of the PRC after handover in 1997; SARS in 2003; and CEPA (the co-production film era) beginning in 2004 - On the surface he is greedy for money and sex - very much like the Freudian ego; and the son, supergo. They come together and represent HK as a whole - very split, love/hate the PRC at the same time by perhaps the same group of people

- Ah Lin (Charlie Young) is a Cantonese-speaking, mumsy prostitute. She's very much like the British government. While A-fong (Kelly Lin) is a Mandarin-speaking, attractive but less motherly prostitute. She alludes to the Central government.

- I only realised that this's a political allegory when the Ah-Sing (Aaron Kwok)'s sequence of having sex with A-fong is parallel-cut with those of Ah Lin. This's significant. That can be read as Ah-Sing's reminiscence of his past with Ah Lin, that he (HK) blames and abuses (the British government). But he misses her after she departs (handover).

- The son lingers with his relationship with his biological mother (Charlie Young/Ah Lin), quite resembles how the HK people missing his colonial government

4) Setting:

It's very clever for Tam to set the film in Malaysia - part of the reason is HKers' aversion towards the mainland locale and people; another part of the reason is that Malaysia is multilingual so it makes sense for Charlie Young to speak Cantonese and Kelly Lin to speak Mandarin. Even when the film is dubbed in Mandarin for the mainland, it won't sound awkward.

- One thing that is very peculiar - Ah Lin's newfound husband is played by Aaron Kwok (the man she runs away from). I am sure this can be interpreted in multiple ways, e.g. Tam perceives that the perfect match between the colonial government and the better side of HK is a better match than the capitalistic side of HK on its own after the handover?

Not all characters need to fit into the picture of the allegory because this isn't a national allegory but an incomplete, political allegory.

These aside, Tam's casting is very accurate, the boys are adorable, Aaron Kwok plays himself - a masculine, crude, patriarchal man enjoys money and sex, and almost has some relevance to the mad killers in Tam's New Wave period's films. The cinematography by Mark Lee Ping-bun towards the end is gorgeous, and the camera angles are spot-on, esp. those POV shots.

You can feel that this is an OK family running downhill that expresses the frustration and tragedy after the handover/ 1997. Although the ending is more positive, all in all this is a very HK film because you need to place it into the context of HK to read it.

On these allegorical levels, this film can be juxtaposed with Fruit Chan's more vulgar and obvious analogue (I hesitate to call those allegories) - The Midnight After (2014) - for the gloominess and uncertainty it alludes; and more recently, Three Husbands (2018) - I haven't watched it but read about it but the British/mainland prostitution analogue is spot on.

Having said all these, I'd prefer Tam to cut this film shorter - like the ending is a bit dragging. Using 2.5 h to get his point across is a bit too much for seasoned audience like me. If audience get it, they get it; vice versa.

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