Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"With Chen brilliantly controlled in the central role, there is much that is fascinating simply in observing Ling as a character."

One day Ling (Shiang-chyi Chen) tries to open the door to her apartment and it won't budge. It's a small thing - it gives eventually, with a promise of more trouble to come - but it's part of a series of small things that build up to become overwhelming, and we get the impression that even before this, Ling has been in a state of stress. Her taut body and tensed face tell us it's how she's used to living, perpetually under pressure.

With a wayward teenage daughter consuming her youth and an unnecessarily bedridden mother beckoning her into old age, Ling is caught in a place where there seems to be no hope, just the dull grind of daily existence. When she misses a period, her doctor tells her it's probably early menopause. She dreams of escape into the world some of her work colleagues fleetingly inhabit, that of ballroom dancing. In particular, she wants to dance the tango. To surrender control, if only for a few short minutes, to somebody else.

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With Chen brilliantly controlled in the central role, there is much that is fascinating simply in observing Ling as a character. Indeed, the camera observes her, sometimes in the cramped spaces of her apartment, sometimes from across the block, between concrete walls. For all that this is a common device in Taiwanese cinema, it creates here the sensation that Ling is perpetually on display, hemmed in by social expectations of women, required to play a preselected role. Her movements suggest she is afraid of being watched but equally afraid of not being seen.

In the hospital ward where Ling's mother languishes is a man who cannot see. Mr Chang (Ming-hsiang Tung) is near-anonymous, with no dutiful family member to care for him. Semi-comatose, with both eyes bandaged, he is shut in with his pain, moaning pitifully. Over the course of several visits to her mother, Ling begins doing him small favours. Her increasing discretion suggests that she's aware she's crossing a line. The movement of her fingers on his chest suggest this is about more than mercy. But one day the bandages will come off. Can she cope with the consequences? How will he ultimately feel about what she has done to him?

Built on small gestures and lingering looks, Exit is a delicately troubling film which, though it never quite seems to fulfill its potential, still makes quite an impression.

Reviewed on: 26 Feb 2015
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Exit packshot
A woman struggling to cope with middle age makes an unexpected connection with an injured man.
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Director: Hsiang Chienn

Writer: Hsiang Chienn

Starring: Shiang-chyi Chen, Easton Dong

Year: 2014

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: Taiwan, Hong Kong

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