After This Our Exile

After This Our Exile ★★★★★

Prior to After This Our Exile, Patrick Tam hadn't made a movie in 17 years, when the landscape of Hong Kong film-making was vastly different. A lot certainly happened between 1989 and 2006.

What is astonishing then, even more than his singular, and perhaps final, return to feature film-making, is that it felt so brimming with life. Patrick Tam poured almost two decades of unsued love and technique into this movie. It felt like he both never missed a step and was actively striving to hone his craft, and the result is simultaneously astonishing and perplexing. Why on Earth did he stop making films when he clearly had so much left in the tank? What does it say about his talent that this brief return of his produced his best work?

Perhaps he simply needed all those years for his film-making sensibilities to mature. Even Nomad, which was probably his most emotionally centered film prior to this, doesn't have the weight and tenderness that is shown here, that was vital for the film. Tam's pension for emotion-based editing, quicker cuts and slightly more jarring shot-to-shot progression, works more than it doesn't here, and it's able to capture the film's tension and dramatic beats with applaud.

Special mention also goes out to Aaron Kwok, who probably gave a career best performance here. I don't know where the man dug into to get it, but he was able to grab that fucking asinine "I have to always be right" dad energy perfectly, something that I unfortunately know.

I am going hard on this because, as fate would seem, it just so happened that his final film is also set in Malaysia-a fact I did not know prior to watching it-and it's the best Malaysian movie Malaysia never made. It highlights its setting without ever seeming pandering, and I don't know what possessed Tam to make a film set here, but he has all my love and admiration for it.

This film targeted my biases from all sides and they succeeded, but I will stress that it is still a great film regardless, by far Tam's most emotionally sturdy and compelling work. I'm glad he made it and I'm mad he hasn't made more films, but if this indeed shall be the final film in his filmography, there's certainly worse films to go out on.

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