Exodus (2007)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2009-10-04
Summary: Strange in a strange way
In “Exodus” Simon Yam is compelling as a sergeant in the Hong Kong police force who is either slowly going insane or has already be driven insane and is realizing his plight. To say he is a very minor cog in the municipal authority of the SAR is to overstate his importance—he is a small part of a small cog that is unnecessary for requirements. A good day for him is when he is sent to staff a public complaint phone line and discovers he can slip off his heavy oxfords while answering citizen calls about lost dogs or missing grocery bags. Sergeant Tsim Kin Yip is the embodiment of Thoreau’s life of quiet desperation or Turgenev’s superfluous man. But things are about to change in profound and frightening ways that lead to his destruction.

Our sergeant questions a suspect who has been caught peeping into a woman’s restroom armed with recording devices. Assuming he is faced with a minor sex crime, he dismisses the claims by the suspect, Kwan, that he was recording the women to get proof of a plot in which the women of the world would unite to kill the men. Something about Kwan’s demeanor makes the sergeant decide to revisit the interrogation, only to find that his story has changed and that he is now willing, even eager, to confess to seeking sick thrills by observing the women. The suspect wants to discredit the story he told Tsim Kin Yip and hopes that it will be forgotten. It isn’t. Particularly interested in the story and in Yip’s desire to follow it up is Madame Fong, a senior police official in charge of the intelligence division. Maggie Siu plays Fong with icy perfection and is the key character in our willingness to accompany Yip on his seeming demented hunt for evidence of the gender based conspiracy. His quest is given a strange authenticity by Madame Fong’s obvious interest in his activities and concern that he might uncover something.

The startling opening scene has been commented upon and described below—I agree that it is an astonishingly effective piece of film making that, as the story unfolds, colors everything we think we know about Yip, his wife, the young widow with whom he has a night of rough sex and his male colleagues. The set design of the police headquarters where Yip and Fong spend most of their time is a work of art. From the odd looking sound baffles in the tiny interrogation room to the extremely open plan of not only the offices but the stairways and other common areas it looks disquieting. Unencumbered with interior walls, it allows conversations to be overheard and is made for lurking to overhear them. Oddly washed out colors and tilted film planes add to the unnerving strangeness of Yip’s surroundings. Edmond Pang with his creative team of art director Man Lim-Chung, lighting designer Chan Wai-Ming and cinematographer Charlie Lam Chi-Kin created a sprawling space that is somehow closed-in and claustrophobic, a telling accompaniment to Yip’s obsessed state of mind.

The story is skimpy on details. The information the viewer and Yip do have often proves to be unreliable or less important than initially thought. Yip is the ultimate unreliable narrator—even though it is told from an omniscient third person point of view we are always aware of what he thinks about what is happening to and around him. Any of his actions as a police officer, as a husband or as a friend, make sense when looked at in their immediate surroundings. But since there is growing evidence that he is either insane or being preyed upon by malevolent forces beyond his control everything he thinks or does is suspect.

“Exodus” ends with a thud, leaving a few “what was that all about?” questions in its wake which is really the only way a movie like this can end.
Reviewer Score: 7