The collaboration between Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen has produced a number of examples in this genre, with this particular one being one of the finest, and a unique combination of crime and martial arts film.
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Police officer Chan has set as his life’s goal to arrest Wong Po, a triad leader, and he is willing to do anything to achieve his goal. Eventually, he discovers a witness willing to testify against him. However, during the transport to the court where Chan is to be presented, one of Po’s men, Jack, manages to kill the witness and his spouse.
During the assault, Chan is injured in the back of his head, a wound that leaves him with a permanent damage and just a few weeks left to live. Additionally, the sole unscathed individual from the incident is the daughter of the witness, who Chan proceeds to adopt. Wong Po is set free and after a while learns that his wife is pregnant, after years of trying. Ma Kwun, an infamous tough officer, eventually succeeds Chan, due to his condition. He initially disapproves of his predecessor’s methods, a state of mind that leads to friction with his co-officers. Nevertheless, in due course he realizes that in order to face Wong Po, he has to resort to unlawful actions.
Wilson Yip directs a film that casts aside almost everything artistic, associated with the HK norms, including elaborate camera angles and editing, and music video aesthetics, and just lets the film shine through the story, the protagonists, and the impressive action scenes. At the same time, he retains a rather fast rhythm that highlights all of the above in the best possible away
The contemporary crème de la crème of Hong Kong action is present here, with Donnie Yen as Ma Kwun and Wu Jing as Jack, along with all-star veterans Sammo Hung as Wong Po and Simon Yam as Chan. The collaboration between two generations of action stars infuses the film with a sense of balance between the fighting scenes and the actual drama, resulting in both being adequate, to say the least. Regarding the second aspect, this is chiefly represented by the transformation of the policemen, who start as being basically good, but end up being villains themselves. Simon Yam in particular, truly shines in this aspect, being the one connecting the two genres with his performance.
Sammo Hung was still impressive as a fighter at the age of 53. However, the definite star of the film is Donnie Yen, who was also responsible for the action choreography, netting an award for his efforts from the Hong Kong Film Awards. All of the combat scenes are impressive; nevertheless, the one between Jack and Ma Kwun is the one that stands out, with Donnie Yen and Wu Jing giving impressive performances. The complexity of the particular scene was on such a level, that it took 5 days to shoot it.
“Sha Po Lang” is an outstanding film, as Wilson Yip manages to present a great combination of crime thriller and martial arts film, through a unique view, that differs much from the plethora of HK action films.