SPL aka Kill Zone (2005)
When SPL came out in 2005, it was like a breath of fresh air in a decade full of derivative, rehashed Hong Kong movies. (I am looking at you Ronald Cheng) Save for the Infernal Affairs Trilogy, there were not many Hong Kong movies of note that weren’t over-the-top slapsticks or action movie that looked cut from the same cookie cutter. It was a far cry from the Tsui Hark, John Woo glory years of Hong Kong movies. In the Asian movie scene, Japanese and Korean movies began creeping up on the Hong Kong market share, even among the Chinese speaking audiences.
SPL changed all that. Not singlehandedly, in-a-blink-of-the-eye type of miracle. But it reminded movie goers of the best in Hong Kong movies, tension between triads and police, balls-to-the-wall action sequences, brilliant fight choreography and a charismatic action hero (Donnie Yen) that you want to cheer on. It also propelled Donnie Yen from a martial arts cult favorite to THE leading man of the decade despite being in his forties.
How do you explain the appeal of SPL, a gritty, violent police-triad story that ends with almost half the entire cast being off-ed?
For starters, the action sequences are very well-done. If you want to take a step further, it starts and ends with the action. It is from start to end an exhilarating, adrenalin-pumping, testosterone charged ride- showcasing two of the best martial artists in the business, Donnie Yen and Wu Jing. It also features an old fan favorite as well- Sammo Hung.
The fight scene between Donnie Yen and Wu Jing is one of the best displays of martial arts, hearkening back to the glory days of Jet Li and Donnie Yen in Wong Fei Hung II. Though Wu Jing’s acting chops won’t earn him an Oscar nomination anytime this century, as a martial artist he is certainly fun to watch. As the sadistic killer-for-hire Jet, Wu Jing is free to display his superior action skills, at least until he faces a greater pugilist master in Donnie Yen.
What do you say about Donnie Yen? He prances, poses, overacts and over-emotes but you forgive his every transgression because he does one thing very well- fight. In fact if you observe his films through the years, SPL displays his recent studies in MMA, adding arm-bars and holds into his already considerable repertoire. During the YouTube fan favorite fight sequence, Donnie Yen squares off with Wu Jing in such glorious fashion that it seems like the finals of a World Martial Arts competition. Both Donnie Yen and Wu Jing show-off their martial arts as they go at each other and for devotees, it takes considerable restraint not to genuflect mid-movie. Make no mistake, it is that good.
So much so that the final fight sequence between Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung is a bit of a let-down, after the adrenalin rush we just witnessed. Sammo Hung deserves his standing in the movie world but in this movie, the vehemence and viciousness of Wu Jing proves to be a better foil to Donnie Yen’s macho heroism. Probably if we had witnessed it on its own, we might appreciate it on its own merit but it this case, it might as well have been a restroom break after the excitement of the previous fight scene.
Apart from the action, there is really nothing much to crow about. Simon Yam is his usual suave and self-assured self, leading a team of passionate but overmatched (other than Donnie Yen) detectives against the formidable forces of Sammo Hung and Wu Jing. Nothing spectacular, nothing that hasn’t already been done before.
But that’s okay actually, considering how well the action is done. The action, though bordering on gratuitous violence is immensely entertaining, reminding movie goers of what Hong Kong film makers do best. Considering it sparked a revival in Donnie Yen’s career with Flashpoint, the Ip Man series all coming on the heels of SPL’s success, we would be ingrates if we didn’t show our appreciation for SPL.
If you have not already watched it, buy the DVD, don’t rent it. You will find yourself watching it again, if for nothing else for the fight sequences.
SPL aka Kill Zone (2005),