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After This Our Exile

International - // Unrated // February 13, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $22.99 [Buy now and save at Hkflix]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted May 20, 2007 | E-mail the Author
It's a shame that Fu Zi aka After This Our Exile, a Chinese domestic drama from Patrick Tam, doesn't attempt to accomplish a bit more within its time frame. There's very deep, stark quality brewing underneath its familial theatrics and bickering. Instead of opting for a layer-peeling drama, we're taken through a singularly focused narrative that stands satisfied in accomplishing less with strength instead of reaching for the depths. It's within this poorly plummeting dynamic that After This Our Exile loses steam and gains momentum with tedium, even with quality performances and beautiful photography paddling against the current.

Note: If you purchase this DVD, do NOT read the synopsis on the back of the DVD. It details the film's plot word for word. Also, the DVD reviewed is of the Theatrical, 120 minutes cut of the film.

The Film:

Set in a relatively timeless period in China, a young boy lives in poor conditions within the quaint, yet faintly rundown streets of a small town. His family has little money since his patriarchal chef father throws his meager earnings away on gambling and booze. The boy struggles for his own bus fare to carry him to school. It's a dynamic that's been clearly existent for some time now, gauging the boy and his mother's irritation with the father's lack of care. One morning, the mother finally reaches her boiling point. She makes sure to give her son some money and, as she believes him to have disappeared, starts to rapidly pack her things. The young boy catches a glimpse of this and scurries to his father's restaurant to inform the wayward patriarch of his woman's activity. After some strong arguing amidst the family, their dynamic changes when the mother manages to disappear from their lives.

What's left are the exploits of a horrible father and a malleable son looking for some form of guidance amidst the fog of young childhood. After This Our Exile makes certain to equip us with the proper surroundings and demeanor for a bumpy, harsh ride through domestic upheaval. There's very little money and a father who consistently throws any that comes into the house away or trivialities. When it runs out, he resorts to manipulation of his environment, including his son and a sad turn towards thievery, to get as much as he can without working for it. This lingers throughout a vast majority of the film in a fully uncomfortable and disheartening demeanor.

Instead of giving us depth into the psyche of this father, this film maintains a singularly focused purpose on the father-son relation split in two directions. After This Our Exile invokes both hatred for the father and empathy for his boy, then fails to delve any further with the verbose and narrative. Just as another layer of the father's boorish Neanderthal persona might be revealed, he ends up acting in a similar manner to the rest of his missteps that resurrects that already existent, off-putting hatred. There are several missed opportunities to open up this central figure to the film, whether it is revelations of darker or lighter corners of his existence. This dynamic instead maintains a grinding, embittered focus with nothing more but wishes for the child to escape.

Interestingly enough, it all seems naturally executed just as the filmmaker desired. Ambiguity about the father's infuriatingly sinister persona could resemble nothing more than the child's outlook, lacking anything more than what's seen before his (and our) eyes. And, if these dynamics alone are the purpose of this film, then After This Our Exile accomplishes them honorably. There's quality performances littered throughout the film, none lacking the predisposed personality that they need to carry throughout the film. Most prominent is Aaron Kwok as the harsh father. A fine line exists between eye-rolling discomfort and invested hatred within a vile character, and Kwok dances along this line with brash, repulsive polish. Within his unbridled actions, he makes certain that we altogether hate the father with genuine, fiery rage. Though there's not much else to it, at least Kwok plasters that emotion with smattering force.

Beautifully shot and accompanied by a simple, poignant score, After This Our Exile churns out as an attractively well crafted, one-dimensional character drama lacking the depth to achieve greatness. Director Tam makes sure to pull in the necessary compassion and disgust for the respective players, achieving a basic but effective dynamic between the son and father. Even amidst an ending that attempts to scrounge up some reflection and consolation, this tale ultimately satisfies merely surface level insight. Undeniable quality stirs within this film, but only a light dusting blows to the top.

The DVD:

Panorama presents After This Our Exile in an attractive standard keepcase package with a side-entry, heavy duty slipcover featuring attractive coverart.

From what is to be understood, this cut of the film which runs around 120 minutes isn't the director's intended version. There's a Director's Cut of the film out there stretching an extra 30 minutes that expands more on the narrative.

The Video:

The gorgeous visuals within After This Our Exilepoured through with glaring beauty in this anamorphic widescreen transfer. Each and every rich color absolutely shines within this enveloping image. Little eccentricities of the beautiful cinematography shines quite well in this image. There's a very minor dust and scratch very infrequently, but as a whole After This Our Exile looks outstanding.

The Audio:

Presented in both Cantonese 5.1 and 2.0 aural presentations, After This Our Exile sounds just as good as it looks. Rich with a gentle score dancing amidst the father-son activities, the activity stays primarily at the front in each aural treatment. However, in the 5.1 surround, trees swaying, grass fluttering, and city sound effects echo from the rears adequately. Also, when a door slams or a bus putts along, the lower frequency channel receives some activity in very smooth fashion. It's a good aural treatment, no matter which audio option is chosen.

The Subtitles:

Here's the negative of this disc that might ultimately deter viewers from enjoying this film. The subtitles are a bit difficult to comprehend and, in essence, rob from the film's possible potency. Within this translation, some of the inkling and minor quips that reveal bits about each character might've become blurred. Granted, the entire context is relatively intelligible and, throughout the film, you can follow and understand the story without any difficulty. However, it just feels like some of the potential magic fades with the subtitled presentation.

The Extras:

Zilch, except for a Scene Selection option.


Final Thoughts:

After This Our Exile boasts performances that draw in the attention and feelings of the viewer atop a minimal, mildly aggravating narrative. Rich with splendid visuals and music, this is a film that achieves a lot with the elements at play, but could've achieved more with just a bit more focus on the depth and brevity of its potential. For fans of the film, you'll be pleased with the audio and video quality, though the dodgy subtitles wo''t really play into that satisfaction. For the rest, After This Our Exile is a decent film that comes with a strong suggestion for a Rental before purchase.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site






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