SPL | aka Kill Zone (2005) Review

"Kill Zone" International DVD Cover

“Kill Zone” International DVD Cover

AKA: Sha Po Lang
Director: Wilson Yip
Writer: Jack Ng, Szeto Kam Yuen
Producer: Cheung Shing Sheung
Cast: Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Wu Jing, Liu Kai Chi, Timmy Hung Tin Ming, Austin Wai Tin Chi, Kenji Tanigaki, Ken Cheung Chi Yiu, Au Hin Wai, Abba Chan Tat Chee, Jeff Kam Chun Man
Running Time: 93 min.

By Cobak

When I saw this film I was starving, not just for dinner (which I actually was) but for some good Hong Kong cinema. HK cinema fans have been waiting since 2001’s Fulltime Killer, a film in which many including myself thought would be the reincarnation of HK action cinema, but despite the great film it was it in fact was the “disappearance”. Well folks good news it has returned, along with the prodigal son Wu Jing (more on him later).

SPL or Sha Po Lang without giving to much away is about a group of HK cops, led by veteran HK actor Simon yam, trying to bring down the ruthless triad boss Po, played brilliantly by Sammo Hung. Yam for reasons i wont get into is retiring, and Donnie Yen is taking over. The film takes place during the transition. With yam and his colleagues trying to frame Po, and Donnie caught in the mix trying to be a good cop and a good person. Got it Good.

The first half of this movie is setting up for the collision course. A great tone in this film which gives it its edge is the from calm, to chaos. A trend you see right of the bat with the opening. Yip is a little more stylized too than in previous films, color effects etc…and i thoroughly enjoyed bullets over summer, so when i learned he was the director i couldn’t wait to see what he would bring to the table. What he brought was and incredible, unforgiving drama/killer action film, something Hong Kong has been missing for years.

During the film you become involved in stories of the group of the policemen, involving various family issues. Very good performances from all of the guys Simon Yam is top notch, in a role he seems always to be in but hey he plays it well. Donnie Yen, Sammo, are there for the fighting, but both do an exceptional job, which makes for some very tense scenes.

Okay lets get down to business, the fight scenes in this film, are some of the best, hard nosed, bloody, gritty, and just edge of your seat best fight scenes I’ve ever seen. Wu Jing is Sammo’s assassin, the silent but deadly type, killing off anyone Po (Sammo) wishes, until the showdown. Donnie Yen vs Wu Jing. Well it definitely delivered, it just seems so natural, as if they were really fighting, and the speed was incredible, not sped up film they were really moving that fast. You can’t belive your eyes the way they are slicing, blocking, and hitting each other. Then, its time for the ultimate showdown, yeah that last fight was so fast i wonder how a 53 year old man can keep up with this guy. Wow does he ever i didn’t even know he could move that fast, he seems like hes 20, this kid is amazing. The fight is again one of the best I’ve seen in many many years, with wresting, grappling, hard boiled punching and yes Donnie’s signature shadow kick it doesn’t get any better than this.

The film culminates with a twist ending so don’t let anyone spoil it for you. It seems like they’ve been watching some Korean films of late, as it proves to add some style and a cool ending for the film. Something HK films have been lacking of late, that Milkyway kinda style (too much watching bittersweet life for me). With a terrific performance from Sammo, and some of the best action in years, see this film and enjoy it. Lets hope this gets the juices flowing for all of HK cinemas missing in action directors.

Being that i saw this film twice in three days, and i must say it got better the second time. I started to notice and appreciate the film for more than just the action sequences. There are a couple of things to nitpick, like timing issues, this film is set during 94-97 during which they did not have Mercedes M class SUV’s or i pod billboards, but honestly who cares, because this movie is too good, and gives us so much when we have nothing.

In many ways SPL is a resurrection not only for HK itself but for many people, Simon Yam for example was off doing Tomb Raider and made to video Jean Claude Van Damme movies, the director Wilson Yip who since Bullets over Summer, and maybe 2002 hasn’t made a decent movie since, Sammo Hung wow what a boost this should give his career,as he plays a bad guy sooo good its easily the best performance I’ve seen of him. Donnie yen has done some nice cameos, hero and blade 2 maybe, but hes back, and hopefully to stay in a leading role where he belongs, and yes the prodigal son Wu Jing not since Yuen Woo Ping’s 1996 Tai Chi II (Zu doesn’t count, well we all know why), have we seen this young talent. This guy is incredible and lets hope he is done with his training, and that we will see much much more of him in the near future.

Cobak’s Rating: 8/10


By Owlman

SPL is a sweet movie. Eschewing the usual fancy-pants martial arts dance party that many in Asia are trying to cram down our throats, SPL marks an excellent return to the brutality of fighting.

And brutal it is. SPL is one of the most bloodiest and violent films that I’ve seen in quite some time. I remember flinching during the fight scenes in Danny the Dog – well, that was a picnic compared to this movie. With action choreography by Yen, the highlight fight is most definitely the alleway knife and baton battle between Yen and newcomer Jing Wu (who looks a bit like Leon Lai). I don’t think I blinked once through the whole bloody mess.

Sammo has a good turn as the villainous Po, combining the nastiness of being a crime boss with the tenderness of a loving husband and father. However, those who are looking for a good fight between Yen and Sammo might be disappointed – whereas the former is quick with his moves, the latter resorts more to body slams and other WWE-approved theatrics.

SPL is by no means perfect as the cop story does verge on the point of being ridiculous at times. The ending is meant to jar the audience but even it just seems kind of silly. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed SPL as a welcome change from the artsy-fartsiness of recent martial arts films and recommend it to anyone looking to pick up some decent wrestling moves.

Owlman’s Rating: 8/10


By Yi Long

First impressions: I liked it, certainly one of the best movies to come out of HK lately, but I didn’t love it.

The movie started out very very good, Sammo was absolutely brilliant in it, both menacing and ‘caring’, and just portraying a realistic character.

Simon Yam was better then usual. I’m not a big fan of Yam, cause I usually have the feeling he sleepwalks through most of his parts. In this one, he’s pretty good. Not GREAT or anything, but good.

Donnie Yen isn’t an actor. He’s usually a bit of the martial arts equivelant of Michael Wong. But in this movie he’s OK. I would have prefered a better actor, but the part also isnt too tasking, plus there are hardly any better martial artists around in HK, so Donnie does OK in this.

Cinematography was very good, at times absolutely fantastic even (the part in the beginning where the group of 4 cops leave the policestation, meet Donnie Yen in his car, and the following scenes where the cops bust a hide-out and get the drugs and money, while at the meantime Donnie checks out his new office and the desks of his coworkers, was extremely well done. Sound was equally good, and at times great, especially in the scene I just described.

SPOILERS

Like I said, the movie started out very very strong, but along the way there were a couple of plotholes.

It’s never explained as how the bad guys find out someone had videotaped the murder, or WHO taped it, yet they somehow manage to find the guy who taped it. Why did the guy make a copy of it in the first place? Why didnt he tell the cops?

Also, the ending was a bit ridiculous. One minute Sammo is lying knocked out in a pile of GLASS, the next minute he grabs Donnie from behind. Donnie gone deaf all of a sudden? You wouldnt hear a 200 pound fat guy crawling out of a pile of glass? And to land exactly on the car of Sammo’s family…

These kind of things bother me a bit. I know it’s a movie, and it’s a good twist ending, non-hollywood, it has a message about each action having consequences, etc etc… but this was all a bit too much.

There are more plotholes, like the gangsters not checking the bag, so Yam could shoot them all, or how Jing Wu could find all the cops in that one night and whack them… (I understand the first, as he was recognised by one of Sammo’s men (also a big coincidence), but the 2nd and 3rd?)

END SPOILERS

The action was good, best we’ve seen from HK in ages, but I was still a bit disappointed. It’s very clear Donnie choreographed it cause his ego really shines through. We get to see all the trademarkstuff from him, but I feel Wu Jing, and ESPECIALLY Sammo, didnt got much opportunity to show what they got. Jing Wu makes a couple of nice twists and twirl jumps, but the fact that he’s mainly fighting with his knives, means he doesnt get to showcase his awesome wushu skills, and/or his great kicking. Sammo especially only gets to do pretty basic stuff. I really hoped we would get to see some nice moves from Sammo as well, but it was all pretty basic as far as fancy moves go. The speed of the exchanges was very good though. And don’t get me wrong, I like seeing Donnie strutt his stuff… I was just hoping the others would strutt some of their stuff as well… (what is ‘strutting’ btw???)

Ok… so with all this negative talk, you’d think I didnt like it, dont you!?

Well… no actually. I DID like it, and I liked it a lot. Like I said before, it’s one of the best movies to come out of HK ina long time. Sure, that also says alot about the sorry state HK Cinema is in right now, but it had a good story, some very good performances, especially Sammo, good action, very good mature supporting cast (a HK movie without 16 year old popstars!?!? WTF!?!? ), nice use of locations (I think the beach is the one I visited this summer, on Lantau Island, but I’m not sure) and very good cinematography and music.

It’s a very good movie. Not the best action of the year (That award will surely go to Tony Jaa’s Tom Yum Goong), and it has a bunch of plotholes, but it’s very entertaining nontheless. Plus it has left some room for a sequal.

Yi Long’s Rating: 8/10


By Ningen

I’m doing this as a favor to let people know what the film was like before Harvey gutted it to a PG 13, because he couldn’t buy his way out of an NC 17. When Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen chose to star in something “darker” and “edgier”, I had no idea what to expect. While I anticipated a drama, I never imagined it would be so vicious with its subject matter of cops using the end to justify the means to arrest a drug kingpin (played by Sammo). The tubby triad has an elaborate network of young thugs who are able to get him out of jail and even overpower the HK police force. When the head of the investigation-played by Simon Yam-gets attacked, loses the case, and discovers he has a terminal illness, he decides to take the law into his own hands. Detective Chan(Yam) and his fellow officers try to rig evidence and shake down gangmembers and even witnesses to indict Po(Sammo). Unfortunately, they run into Ma(Donnie’s character), a cop who believes in playing by the rules. While Ma does eventually remain silent on the issue, he’s forced to question his code of honor when Po becomes more aggressive.

To be honest, I’m disappointed with SPL. I expected Donnie to be the lead, not Yam, and for a thriller(more like dark comedy), it didn’t have much characterization. What depth did exist in the film consisted of learning about the families of the leads. This does have relevance to the plot, but mostly in the form of foreshadowing, which I felt was a little manipulative, since you’re forced to care about the cops without really getting to know them personally. Donnie’s character is the toughest to relate to, even though it helps you understand him more. It doesn’t help that his acting chops are a little less refined than the rest of the cast. (Although people in the audience seemed to laugh more at Sammo, even though I thought he had a better performance than Donnie.) Donnie overacts during dramatic scenes, and doesn’t emote enough during contemplative scenes. It almost feels like he was tacked on to sell the movie.

The action scenes were decent for the most part, although there is occasional camera cutting which makes me wonder if there isn’t some extended footage of the fights. Sammo stands out for his strength and surprising-for his age-agility, while Donnie has some nice grappling and kicking skills, but could use more work on his hand-to-hand combat. (I think I also noticed a part where you can tell a knife is rubbing up against someone’s skin, instead of cutting it, but I’ll overlook that, since it doesn’t affect the story.) I was also hoping Donnie would go up against all those teens in a Drunken Master 2-style brawl, but he just has two major fights(and two minor ones). Still, if you’re looking for UFC-style punishment, you can’t go wrong with SPL. Unlike Kill Bill, you can actually see blood, gore, welts and bruises on Donnie and Sammo as they smash each other up against the furniture. (Or is it the other way around?)

But in actuality, SPL is not about the actors or the fights, but the most screwed-up story I’ve seen in years. Let’s just say it ends on a downbeat note which will take you back to the pre-Hollywood days of John Woo. See it with someone you hate.

Ningen’s Rating: 8/10 While SPL does cop out on the action and even the drama in favor of shock value, it deserves credit for taking no prisoners with its bold script. It’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill crime drama.

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