All those who thought the art of the spaghetti western was dead, can relax. It turns out, it's alive and well and living in Macau.

There is more than one man - and they all have names - but these are laconic throwbacks to a time when words were for the birds and disputes were settled with a barrel full of lead. The initial scene, which sees four men arrive at a house, with its minimal chatter scripting and slow burning wait for the action to kick off, strongly reminiscent of Sergio Leone at his best.

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Two of the gangsters, Blaze (Anthony Wong) and Fat (Lam Suet), are out to kill the new occupant Wo (Nick Cheung) - an exiled former hitman who has had a contract on his head ever since he tried, unsuccessfully, to take out the man at the top of the tree, Boss Fay (Simon Yam).

The good news for Wo, his wife Jin (Josie Ho) and their baby is that the other two men on his doorstep, Tai (Francis Ng) and Cat (Roy Cheung), are on his side, out to keep him alive.

Things take a turn for the odd, when it turns out that all five men know one another and, after a scene that can only be described as a poem to violence, they reach a stand-off which sees them all sit down to a nice meal and a chinwag about old times, that culminates in a bizarre agreement to take on a 'final job' before Wo bites the bullet.

The rest of the plot is similarly twisted, but involves gold bullion, Fay's increasing desire to see Wo's head on a pole and Jin on the hunt for vengeance.

Johnny To's direction is as smooth as a well-cut suit and the violence has a balletic intensity. In fact, the action scenes ooze so much style, it's a wonder it isn't puddling on the floor, as he repeats motifs such as flipping tables and spinning cola cans to wonderful cumulative effect. There is plenty of substance here, too, with epic themes of standing by your man, protecting your brothers in arms at any cost and defending honour all cleverly explored.

But To never becomes po-faced about things, importing another great concept from spaghetti westerns - black humour. We know the way of life of these hitmen is virtually history. They are a throwback to Macau's past, with the action symbolically taking place on the night of its hand-over from Portugal to Hong Kong. Emotion is a foreign language to them, leading to curious Mexican stand-offs in conversation, which mirror those in the action scenes.

The result - set to a suitably epic scoring - is a film heavy on action and on humour, which features several set-pieces so carefully shot that they may well become classics of the genre.

Reviewed on: 14 Jun 2007
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Exiled packshot
Ageing hitmen take on one last job.
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Director: Johnny To

Writer: Kam-Yuen Szeto, Tin-Shing Yip

Starring: Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Nick Cheung, Richie Ren, Roy Cheung, Josie Ho, Ka Tung Lam, Siu-Fai Cheung, Ellen Chan

Year: 2006

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong


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