I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Kill Zone 2 (SPL 2: A Time For Consequences)

tn_spl2btislSPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES (or KILL ZONE 2 in the U.S.) is not truly a sequel to SPL/KILL ZONE, the great 2005 martial arts/police thriller that Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and director Wilson Yip did together before the IP MAN movies. Instead it’s an even better movie with Tony Jaa (THE PROTECTOR), Louis Koo (DRUG WAR) as the villain and Zhang Jin (THE GRANDMASTER) as the main henchman. Wu Jing (WOLF WARRIOR) and Simon Yam (MAN OF TAI CHI) both return in lead roles, but not as the same characters from the first one.

Director Cheang Pou-soi (DOG BITE DOG, MOTORWAY, THE MONKEY KING) and action director Li Chung-chi (team leader of the Jackie Chan Stunt Team who also choreographed GEN-X COPS 2, VENGEANCE and IP MAN: FINAL FIGHT) have come up with some next level shit that’s pretty much everything I could hope for in a serious Hong Kong action movie: an intense, involving story with a strong, dramatic tone, building carefully to powerful explosions of violence including large scale shootouts and vehicle mayhem but primarily martial arts with a wide variety of styles that express things about the characters and situations.

Jing and Jaa both get in plenty of fighting (both against each other and otherwise), but also give the best real acting performances I’ve seen out of them. Jing is a great martial artist but I found him a little irritating in INVISIBLE TARGET. Not so here. And Jaa of course has gotten by with simple characters and great fighting; here he has to get into loving-father-facing-potential-tragedy mode, and he pulls it off. Not that I need to.

still_spl2

Koo plays a villain so cold-blooded that he is literally trying to steal his brother’s heart. He runs an organ stealing business and he finds he needs to get high on his own supply. Somehow it makes him even scarier that he looks like David Bowie as Andy Warhol in BASQUIAT. Of course, all his fighting is done by his right hand man played by Jin, who is unrecognizable from IP MAN 3, where he played the other master who becomes the antagonist. He’s a topnotch prissy villain who daintily holds a pocket-square over his mouth to protect himself from the odor of his suffering victims, and has an upright, jagged fighting style to match his carefully preened suits and hair.

Action-wise it reminds me a little of THE RAID 2 in its confidence to push limits in how fights can be performed and filmed. The takes are often long, the camera moves complex, often with a fall or a jump through a window continuing into more action, or more than one fight happening within the frame. There’s a shootout in a crowded airport, a chase and fight within a prison riot, a brutal throwdown in a high class medical facility, but one of my favorite parts is just Jaa as a prison guard beating down prisoner Jing for trying to fight his way out of the joint.

There’s a highlight from that fight that’s in the trailer where Jaa jumps up and knees Jing and they both fly through a window and he lands and they keep fighting. That’s a great moment that I would’ve put in the trailer too, but there are all kinds of great moments throughout this thing.

mp_spl2Jing plays a Hong Kong cop living as a low life junkie to infiltrate the kidnapping/organ stealing ring in Thailand. But he ends up in this prison, unable to communicate with anyone about his predicament, and with his uncle (Yam) unaware of his location.

The story is complicated, but in a beautiful, clockwork kind of way. It hinges on two needed organ donations (Koo’s heart and Jaa’s daughter’s bone marrow), two overdue phone calls (one from Jing to his uncle, one from a potential donor to the daughter), and different ways that technology can now transcend language differences (a translation app, emojis). The characters come together through outlandish coincidence, but poetically so (and commented on by a character).

This is a great film for Jaa because he finds a way to express his Buddhist monk morality without playing another wide-eyed country boy. When his character Chai discovers the organ stealers he’s tempted/threatened with an abducted girl who could provide his daughter’s bone marrow. Jin, we learn, is so loyal to his bastard of a boss because of a similar favor he once received. Chai doing the right thing here is a real struggle, and makes it even more satisfying when he finally ends up side-by-side with Jing.

The organ donation theme is itself very moral. It speaks to the connectedness of humanity. You need my marrow? Here, I’m not using all of it. It’s a selfless act of extreme sharing. To give is beautiful, to steal is inhuman. The villains treat organs and people as a commodity to be plundered and leveraged. Their thievery is so depraved that just to fit in with them, Jing has to pollute his system, making him unable to give of himself when he wants to.

SPL 2 is already available overseas on a Region A, English subtitled blu-ray which was kindly loaned to me a few months ago. I’d been holding off on this review until it became more available, but now all the sudden there’s a trailer for an American release in theaters and on demand May 13:

So, hopefully I didn’t spoiler too much, but I want to get the word out ahead of time because in my opinion this is a new action classic. I don’t know if the rest of the world will agree with me. Somebody on Twitter told me it’s not as good as the first one because it uses wires in some parts, but that’s a religious tenet I do not remotely relate to. It’s not like they’re crouching tigering all over the place, but it’s also not like this would be improved by being realistic. To me that’s like saying you don’t like HARD BOILED because they would never be able to have that many bullets.

I think it’s the best new martial arts movie in at least a few years. I love it. I hope you will too.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 6th, 2016 at 11:55 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

41 Responses to “Kill Zone 2 (SPL 2: A Time For Consequences)”

  1. I didn’t care for the first one, so hearing that it’s unrelated (not to mention way better) has taken me from thoroughly uninterested to extremely excited in record time. There’s nothing like a good Hong Kong action film, and the fact that they’re so rare nowadays just makes them more precious.

  2. ‘…some next level shit that’s pretty much everything I could hope for in a serious Hong Kong action movie: an intense, involving story with a strong, dramatic tone, building carefully to powerful explosions of violence including large scale shootouts and vehicle mayhem but primarily martial arts with a wide variety of styles that express things about the characters and situations.’

    SOLD!

  3. Vern, anyone objecting to the wire work here should remember that Donnie Yen needed it to help him throw a bag in the original!

    I loved this one, and your review is right on the money.

  4. As a notorious Hong Kong martial arts fan, I should probably watch this.

  5. Great review, i loved the original and can’t wait to see this.

  6. I don’t want to get too spoilery, but one of the things I really liked in this was Tony Jaa’s acting. Like giving him a kid to care about, rather than, say, a statue or an elephant, really made his character work for him. When it was time for Tony to choose between looking and driving the other way, or doing the right thing even though it would mean a terrible sacrifice, there was real anguish in the decision.

    The karmic resolution of that decision really does make this a worthy successor to the original.

  7. Great stuff. A mate who hadn’t seen the original caught it at a festival recently and his brief summary made it sound like a weaker rehash but I’ll put my faith in Vern on this one.

  8. Can’t wait to see this!

  9. The Original Paul

    April 7th, 2016 at 6:38 am

    Man, I hope they bring this one out on region-2 DVD as soon as possible. I absolutely loved the first KILL ZONE and this genuinely sounds as though it could be even better.

  10. This movie is straight up fantastic.

  11. Great review Vern. Seen this just before Christmas, after watching Skin Trade. Made for a great double bill. One of the best straight up Hong Kong actioners in years.

    I would have to agree that SPL 2 is a better film than the original. Sure it doesn’t have as good a leading man as Donnie Yen, but Wu Jing and Tony Jaa together make up for that. The best action scene in the movie is probably the prison riot, which is done in one long take and includes Wu Jing, Tony Jaa and Zhang Jin.

    I don’t understand the complaints about the wirework either, as if the first movie didn’t have any far fetched scenes in it. As brutal as the first movie is, theer are still some parts of the fights that are not humanly possible.

    If you liked this, I would maybe suggest the new Ringo Lam movie “Wild City” starring Louis Koo and Shawn Yue. Although not a martial arts film there is still some brutal action. It is currently streaming on the US Netflix.

  12. Wild City was pretty good but I don’t think it’s quite as great as Drug War which is just phenomenal.

    I really hope SPL 2 isn’t just about how the audience are terrible people for liking bad ass characters in movies.

  13. Agreed Drug War was great, although it is a bit watered down for a Johnnie To film. This is probably due to it being a mainland production . Don’t like the fact that most Chinese productions have to show that crime doesn’t pay by either killing or arresting the main characters. It’s quite unrealistic and makes the movies quite predictable.

  14. Yeah but the lead bad guy, I forget who played him, was amazing.

  15. Do you mean the Drug Dealer that the cops tried to use. He was played by Louis Koo, a Johnnie To regular. He was great in it and usually doesn’t play out and out bad guys like that.

    If you like Drug War I would recommend earlier Johnnie To films lie Exiled or Vengeance, but you have probably seen them.

  16. Louis Koo is the lead bad guy in this movie too!

  17. Tony – I had actually typed up that statement about Louis Koo, then realised that he is the villain in SPL 2 as well. I should have said that up until Drug War he didnt play the villain much.

  18. The assassin with the knives was awesome. He only has a couple scenes with no dialogue but makes a big impression, similar to Wu Jing’s role in the first SPL.

    It’s a bit disappointing how some of the critics here in the states are basically writing off what’s going on between the action scenes as filler, but I guess that’s a common criticism martial arts movies will face, even one as well-crafted as this one.

  19. Watched this yesterday. I really liked it but by the end of the film I didn’t fall in love with it. As far as acting goes, this clearly is the best thing Tony Jaa and Wu Jing have ever done. They did a great job, especially Jaa. I always believe, not that this is a radical assumption, that any fight scene is better when you’re emotionally invested in what is going on.

    I don’t mind wire work in modern settings as long as it’s done minimally. This film uses it way too much, imo, but it doesn’t necessarily take away from the fights. Like I said, by the time the final fight rolled around I was so invested in the good guy vs bad guy match up that it was pretty thrilling.

    I think the very ending of the film is what made me not love it.

    *SPOILERS*

    I thought it got a little ridiculous right near the end. The girl going to plant the seed in the middle of nowhere with a terrible looking wolf snarling at her while Jing and the bad guy are dangling from a terrible looking CGI chain only for the film to figure out that what they’re doing is ridiculous and just cut to the heroes being fine and the girl living. They could have come up with a much better ending, imo. I did appreciate the happy ending considering how massive gut punch the first movie was. Is this another case where they do happy endings to make the Chinese censors cool with it? This Chinese thing is getting awfully annoying, imo.

  20. Somehow I didn’t notice until the second viewing that SPOILER they totally skip over how everything is resolved. We don’t know how they got down, or have confirmations of the deaths of the bad guys. But to me it didn’t matter, I wanted Sa to not die, and then we see her at 16, so she must’ve hung on long enough for the transplant. (I didn’t take the wolf as being literal, but it is definitely weird. Which I like.)

  21. Vern, I don’t know why it bothered me so much. Probably because I wanted to see the bad guy henchmen die. It’s also weird that I wasn’t as invested with Sa living even though she is the main driving force as to why I wanted the boss and henchmen to die so much.

    Ultimately I liked the movie a lot but I didn’t love it which is a shame since you clearly love it and I wanna be on the love train.

  22. Did the assassin with the blades have a hearing aid? For some reason I didn’t register what it was the first time I saw it. After Wu Jing fights him, he tells the receptionists to call a doctor, so maybe the ending is a bit less bothersome if you assume the authorities finally arrived and pulled them up. From what I can remember, I thought the prison warden lost his grip and then Jaa somehow managed to grab Wu’s arm so it was just the two of them hanging.

    Also didn’t notice that Drunken Master villain Ken Lo played Jaa’s prison guard buddy until I looked at the cast list.

  23. OH that’s why the Prison buddy looked so damn familiar. Man he’s old now but still awesome.

  24. Crushinator Jones

    July 22nd, 2016 at 8:25 am

    This one blew me off my couch and through my back wall. Holy shit. Like Vern says, this is pretty much a classic HK actioner that fires on all cylinders and features an intricate plot that pays off on every level at the end.

    BTW if you’re wondering about the wolf at the end here’s my take: this movie explicitly rejects people who prey on others, and the wolf is just the point where it becomes explicit. The wolfs of the world: Louis Koo, that crazy knife assassin, the Warden – in the end they don’t win if your heart is pure. The part where Wu Jing just goes in and OWNS that knife assassin made me cheer out loud. Koo can’t kill his good-hearted brother. And the wolf can’t touch a little girl with a pure heart.

    The ending was a bit of a stretch but you know what? I was convinced that one of the 3 was gonna eat it before the end. So I’m willing to forgive it. This movie fucking owned.

  25. I have a question. I think SPL 2 is really good. I love the fights and everything. I recently watched a clip of the final fight in No Retreat, No Surrender 2. Not the best example of a great martial arts movie but it made me think about modern martial arts films. Does Hong Kong make the type of martial arts film they used to make in the 80s and 90s? I’m talking hand to hand fights with intricate choregraphy where they will tend to use their surroundings to help them in their fights. I’m thinking of the Jackie Chan type fight or even like In the Line of Duty IV.

  26. If they do, I haven’t seen one in a while. Maybe the IP MAN movies have some of that but I seem to remember more fights being about avoiding props than utilizing them. It seems to me like HK choreography is trying to incorporate more MMA moves these days, with all the grappling and close combat, and that’s probably difficult to work a good umbrella or firehose gag into.

    Sternshein, have you seen RED WOLF? That’s my favorite of the type of movie you’re talking about. It’s a Yuen Woo Ping DIE HARD ripoff set on a cruise ship. You got couch gags, dumbbell gags, suction cap bathmat gags, all kinds of great shit. Check it out if you haven’t already.

  27. I haven’t seen that one in forever, Mr M, and I totally dont’ really remember it. I’ll have to do a revisit. Amazon Prime US has a ton of Hong Kong movies right now it’s pretty great.

    Come to think of it, do they even make Hong Kong movies anymore? They all seem to be made in China or for China. 1997 was the worst thing to happen to HK movies, obviously.

  28. HK action cinema is not quite dead yet (we still have Donnie Yen), but yeah, it’s definitely on life support and the signs ain’t good.

    To further stretch my piss poor analogy, it’s organs have been transplanted into Mainland Chinese cinema, which is not the same thing at all.

    That’s another reason SPL2 is so awesome – because it seems so anomalous now.

    The real successors to HK fight flicks are people like Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais and their collaborators and Western cats like Scott Adkins and Florentine. The spirit lives on and so forth.

  29. If you want something positive, see this one!. Watched it last night and absolutely loved it. It felt like a 21st century heroic bloodshed flick with not only a great emotional story, symbolic imagery , bad ass male bonding and some great film making. But the way the fights are integrated in the story, makes me happy. HK action film makers used to be good at one thing, but here we get a solidly rounded package with your classic high octane finale in which two heroes takes on the super vllain in a fantastic set piece. The film contains a lot of different great, complex sequences, but as a HK action fan, the last half hour truly delivered on old school martial arts choreography.

  30. My movie of the year too, Vern, even if technically I saw it last year.

    SONITA is probably the best thing I’ve seen this year:

  31. OK, and again:

    Sonita | Women Make Movies | Trailer

    Learn more about SONITA here: http://www.wmm.com/sonita/ Women Make Movies is the world’s leading non-profit distributor of films by and about women. Like th...

  32. First trailer for the Sammo Hung directed PARADOX, which reunites Jaa & Koo, is here:

    http://video.mtime.com/64915/?mid=235288

  33. A History of Violence – SPL (Kill Zone)

    Donnie Yen established his ass-kicking star power long before Rogue One

    Donnie Yen is, quite possibly, the single greatest movie star working on the planet right now.

  34. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JknXUnxzgI

    TRIPLE THREAT “sneak peek” – with a proper trailer arriving during Comic-Con.

  35. Here it is, the most eagerly awaited trailer out of San Diego Comic-Con.

    Earth’s Mightiest Heroes finally team-up on screen:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVbvxh-_2Ts

  36. Here’s to hoping this will get a theatrical release here in Singapore.

  37. That definitely felt more like a teaser trailer then a regular trailer. Regardless, I’m sure the movie is awesome but the teaser wasn’t that good to me.

  38. Latest trailer for Tony Jaa/Louis Koo film PARADOX, with punches by Sammo Hung, and which could turn out to be SPL 2.5 (or possibly 3):

    Paradox (杀破狼·贪狼, 2017) Louis Koo / Tony Jaa action trailer 2

    Второй трейлер гонконгского боевика "Парадокс" (Paradox / 杀破狼·贪狼, 2017) https://hkcinema.ru/film/27758

  39. Good news, everyone! After nearly a year of feeling guilty that I was largely ambivalent toward what I’d been assured was a new action classic, I gave this one another chance and I liked it much more. I barely remembered it the last time (I even forgot Tony Jaa was in it) and the parts I did remember weren’t any of the good parts.

    I think the first time I just could not accept the preposterousness of the story, and the attempts to lampshade the plot’s reliance on shameless, outrageous coincidence with some ham-handed dialogue about capital-F “Fate” just felt really hacky to me. I could almost accept it as some De Palma-esque knowing archness, but the tone was so earnest that I suspect the movie expected me to take it all at face value, which stopped me from ever really surrendering to the flow of awesomeness coming out of the action scenes.

    This time I knew the story was ludicrous garbage from the beginning so I could just accept it and stop fighting it. I enjoyed the character work, despite not approving of the bullshit the plot shoehorned those characters into. I even kind of liked some of the daughter stuff that I just rolled my eyes at before and can see how there’s some kind of lunk-headed poetry going on, even though I still don’t think it fully works. It’s just too obvious for me to take seriously, and too serious for me to laugh at. But man, those fights. So varied, intense, creative, and intricate. Totally worth all the ridiculous melodrama.

    But yeah, wow, we need to talk about that ending. It’s just fucking awful. I had to rewind to make sure I didn’t fall asleep and miss something. It’s like they cut out the big action climax and kept the part people walk out of in the theater to beat the rush out of the parking lot. The fact that the movie seems to think that I care about the Lifetime movie shit with the disease-of-the-week daughter and her metaphorical battle with a cartoon wolf more than the kickass action I paid for is what’s going to keep this movie and me from ever fully seeing eye to eye. But at least I’m not blind to the film’s better qualities anymore.

  40. But Mr. M…they do give you that action showstopper finish! They just cut over the very last little bit.

  41. They skipped over the asshole villain getting his comeuppance. That’s a violation of action movie ethics that I cannot abide. It’s like saying “Well, the sex was great except we skipped the orgasms and went right to the awkward cuddling.”

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