With 'After This Our Exile', director Patrick Tam tells us the story of a family's breakdown in a most dramatic and heavy handed fashion. Yet, the story is so well told that the audience is kept riveted and can't help but care about the characters.
The story is set in a small town in Malaysia. Although not formally married, a couple and their young son do their best surviving day to day on meager salaries. But because of her boyrfriend's abusive ways and gambling habit, the woman decides to run away with another man, abandoning her family. Although the woman deeply cares for her son, she decides not to take her son with her due to the boy's idolization of his father and her desire to start a new life.
Obviously hurt by this, the father tries to track her down. But after failed attempts to do so, the father and son try to get along the best they can. However, due to the father's hurt pride and gambling debts, the father tries to find easy ways to make money, causing the two to spiral down into more and more dire circumstances. And even worse, in order to make his father proud, the young son starts to commit petty theft to help make ends meet.
The English title for this film is 'After This Our Exile', but the literal translation of this film's Chinese title is simply 'Father and Son'. And that is what this film examines - a father's emotions and actions after being abandoned by his girlfriend and how those actions affects his son and their relationship. Unfortunately, this relationship could not stand all the strain of the dark path the father has led them on and comes to a dramatic end.
Unlike many movies, this movie has no clear heroes or villains. Many may see the father as the villain after what he puts himself and his innocent son through. However, I do not see it that way. Although the father has many faults, he does want what is best for his son, even if he goes about it by the wrong means. If anything, this movie demonstrates how dire circumstances transformed both the father and the son into becoming the "bad guys", even though they themselves probably didn't realize it while it was happening.
Although this story does not end in a traditional happy ending by any means, the ending does tie up all loose ends and gives the audience a feeling of hope. In a very meaningful and clever manner, the story wraps up with the son making ammends for the mistakes he made. And at the same time, we find out that the individual members of this torn family finally have found stability in their lives.
This film stars Aaron Kwok in the leading role as the father. Although Kwok spent much of his career as a popstar and taking on much more light-hearted roles, this film really shows off his skills as a serious, dramatic actor. Rounding out the cast of main characters are Charlie Young as the mother, Goum Ian Iskandar as the son, and Kelly Lin as the prostitute that the father associates with later in the film. All deliver stellar performances. Even though the characters and the increasingly horrible circumstances they face are bordering on extreme, the performances were always believable.
This is director Tam's first film in 17 years, but it is obvious he hasn't lost a step. 'After This Our Exile' won all the major awards in this year's Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Film and Best Director. And it is easy to see why. not only was it a well written story, but it also contains very clever and intriguing usage of flashback, cross-cutting, and camera angles to convey what the father and son are going through and even what they are feeling.
Even though it is definitely depressing and contains some disturbing scenes, 'After This Our Exile' tells the story of a father-son relationship in a very real and insightful way. Even with limited scenery and a very small cast, Directory Patrick Tam is still able to tell a story that is captivating and truly touches the audience. This film is a great piece of dramatic cinema, and I recommend it strongly.