FC readers definitely know (and generally love) Wong Kar Wai’s 1991 film Days of Being Wild and Johnnie To’s 2005 Election. But chances are they’re unfamiliar with Patrick Tam’s Final Victory (87). Tam, who edited both the Wong and the To films, hasn’t directed in 17 years but is one of the original members of HK’s Seventies new wave, i.e., the first generation of filmmakers to think of the islands, rather than the mainland, as home. But he’s back in action with After This Our Exile, an overt melodrama concerning an abusive father tormented by debtors, his runaway wife, and the young woebegone son (seen in the bus station above) who is slowly ripped to psychological shreds betwixt them. The simple tale is given enormous dynamism and depth by Tam’s visual style, which radiates gorgeous atmospheric light and shadow (courtesy of lenser Mark Pin Bing Lee, the DP of choice for Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tian Zhuangzhuang, and Wong Kar Wai).
Tam is no shrinking violet when it comes to emotive overkill—which makes for superior melodrama. For example: in a scene in which the father goes to the town newspaper to take out an ad begging his wife to forgive him and come home, the camera moves forlornly toward an empty doorway, while Tam’s soundtrack brings up the melancholy strings—and it works like a dream.
Balance in tonality and range, specifically in terms of acting, is a tricky thing in films like these: there’s always the risk of the slippery slope of cliché. But Tam understands equilibrium. He knows when to do the dance of give and take, especially in terms of his extremely suspect patriarch antihero. You’ll hate him; but you’ll also feel his pain.
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