Since the start of this blog there have been two real constants. One, I really need to do a better job editing everything. Two, I love the hell out of the movie SPL (released as Kill Zone in the US). You can go back as far as 2011 and amidst poorly written Top lists and mediocre MMA coverage you’ll find my Top 9 Best Movies since 1986 where I praise the Wilson Yip classic. Its mix of crime film and fast-paced, multi-discipline martial arts influenced my tastes way more than most films have. For a solid year or two I practically bought nothing but Chinese action films; it was that kind of influence. So imagine my surprise to hear in 2013 that we would be getting a sequel, SPL II: A Time for Consequence. While it wouldn’t be directed by Wilson Yip or star Donnie Yen it still sounded great. Starring the returning Wu Jing and Simon Yam it would also star Zhang Jin, Louis Koo and Tony Jaa. Throw in director Cheang Pou-soi (Motorway, The Monkey King) and you have the potential to live up or even surpass the original. Were my hopes too high or would this be the great white whale of film, a sequel better than the original?
Drug addict and cop Chan-Chi Kit (Wu Jing) goes undercover to capture the ill crime boss Mr. Hung (Louis Koo). The operation goes bad despite the efforts of Kit’s uncle Wah (Simon Yam) and Kit is thrown into the Thai prison system. Assigned to keep his eye on Kit is Thai police officer Chai (Tony Jaa). Needing money for his daughter’s bone marrow transplant he is forced to turn a blind eye to various illegal activities done by the warden Ko (Zhang Jin). Worlds collide when Mr. Hung travels to Thailand for an illegal operation and only Kit and Chai can stop him.
If that all sounds a bit convoluted, well, it is. Now I get what they’re trying to do. Writers Lai-yin Leung (Rigor Mortis, Ip Man 3) and Ying Wong (special effects on As The Light Goes Out) want to make this bigger and more spectacular which I appreciate. The thing is one of the things I dug about the original SPL is how basic it was. It didn’t have the twists and turns of an Infernal Affairs or Cold War. To me it felt more like a typical heroic bloodshed movie like Hard Boiled or City on Fire. While it may just be my expectations going in having it be less grounded and more an excuse to fit in Tony Jaa is a bit of a disappointment.
What bothers me more is that I felt this expansive plot left less time for the characters to develop. Given there isn’t much character development in either movie but I generally dug what we learned about Chan Kwok-chung (Simon Yam), Wong Po (Sammo Hung) and Ma Kwun (Donnie Yen) in the original. While their backgrounds were full of clichés I did feel like they were complete characters. Aside from Kit and Chai nobody really developed much beyond their introduction.
I will say I was pleasantly surprised by Tony Jaa as Chai. While not exactly the most emotive of actors I found myself rooting for his character. As it turns out Jaa is humanized way more when he is trying to save his daughter than elephants. The only other person to really stand out for their acting is Zhang Jin. Like Wu Jing in the first movie he steals ever scene he’s in doing very little. Not much more than a top henchman his martial arts prowess and menacing presence leave more of an impression despite his spot on the actor totem pole.
Then again looking at SPL II for as an acting or script-writing showcase is a bit futile. The big hook of an SPL film is the action and here it’s top notch. Replacing Donnie Yen can be a pretty daunting task but Chung Chi Li (Rush Hour, Legendary Assassin) steps up to the plate and certainly holds his own. While not as brutal as the first film everything moves smoothly at a breakneck pace in a variety of settings. The stand out scene being a set piece during a prison riot. Filmed as a pseudo-tracking shot it is a fun mix of chase and fight scene that does a good job showing off the skills of Wu Jing, Tony Jaa and Zhang Jin. Not that it’s all hand-to-hand combat. Staged at an airport we get a pretty good shoot out scene that does a good job of mixing gunplay and story.
Of course an action scene is only as good as its director and Soi Cheang Pou-Soi fits the bill. While his filmography varies from fantasy (The Monkey King) to horror (Home Sweet Home) to comedy (Hidden Heroes) his wheelhouse seems to be action. Like Motorway before it SPL 2 is a great genre film. With some top level production Soi captures every fight scene with a skillfulness rarely seen. Just as impressive is his ability to integrate 3D in a non-3D version. While a bit obvious at times it rarely disrupts the flow of things and isn’t too distracting. All in all a good job. If there’s any complaint, and who knows if it was up to Soi, it is the music cues. Typical for the most part every now and then they would use (I assume) licensed music that didn’t seem to fit. Maybe it’s just a China thing but bootleg Sarah McLauchlan has no place during a fight scene.
So the question remains, did SPL 2: A Time for Consequences live up to the hype? Not quite. Even though I like how ambitious it tries to be I found the script to be a bit uneven with one too many “well that was coincidental” moments to be considered to match the original. I can’t say it’s a disappointment either. What it lacks in story it makes up for in directing, action and even the occasional good performance. While not the genre defining movie I would want it to be it is still a damn fine slice of genre cinema. Hopefully the recently announced SPL 3 can keep this momentum going.