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Paradox

Remember the great Donnie Yen/Sammo Hung movie SPL, or KILL ZONE as the Weinsteins retitled it in the U.S.? If not, do you at least remember SPL 2/KILL ZONE 2, the even greater Wu Jing/Tony Jaa movie that knocked our asses and hearts into the stratosphere a couple years ago? Well, PARADOX was made as SPL 3. That’s why I got antsy and ordered an import from YesAsia before I read that Well Go is putting it out in the U.S. on May 8th.

Once again it’s not a normal followup, but a thematic sequel, or a spiritual sequel, or a sequel in name only, or a remix. Some of the connective tissue cast-and-crew-wise is that it’s directed by Wilson Yip (who directed the first SPL and produced the second), it’s produced by Cheang Pou-soi (who directed part 2), it stars Louis Koo (who played the crime boss who needs a transplant in part 2), it has a “special appearance” by Tony Jaa (who was the co-lead of part 2), Ken Lo (part 2) is in it too, and the action director is Sammo Hung (choreographer and co-star of part 1).

Also the cool American cover has a wolf on it, which must be a reference to the weird metaphorical encounter at the end of the last one. I do believe this one is wolf-free.

Unfortunately I must emphasize that this is not as good as KILL ZONE 2. It’s not as stylish (can’t match all those crazy camera moves), it’s not as detailed in its exploration of themes (2 did so much with language barriers and poetic coincidence), it doesn’t boast career-best acting performances from two great martial arts stars, it doesn’t have as memorable a villain as Max Zhang’s tidy henchman, and most of all it doesn’t push the envelope of contemporary martial arts action the way 2 did. KILL ZONE 2 is a special movie, a modern classic, in many ways unparalleled. PARADOX is just a good action melodrama with some of the same elements: a Hong Kong cop in Thailand, organ traffickers, a daughter who needs help, Tony Jaa, Louis Koo. It simply cannot live up to the standards set to be followed inside the kill zone. But by the rules that exist outside of the zone it’s pretty good. I enjoyed it.

Koo (DRUG WAR) plays Lee, a Hong Kong cop whose teenage daughter Chi (Hanna Chan) disappears while visiting a friend in Thailand, and he decides to go look for her. (Oh shit, that’s almost the plot of Seagal’s Ching Siu-Tung-directed BELLY OF THE BEAST.) We can connect the dots that her abduction is related to the parallel story we’re seeing about a political operative (Gordon Lam, IP MAN, FIRESTORM) trying to secretly get a heart transplant for the up-for-re-election mayor.

Lee gets into trouble with the local cops, but a happens-to-be-Chinese detective named Chui Kit (Wu Yue, LITTLE BIG SOLDIER, GOD OF WAR) offers him assistance along with his superstitious partner Tak (Jaa, THE PROTECTOR 2). Jaa gets to play the lovable sidekick this time. Arguably the sidekick’s lovable sidekick. The “special appearance by” credit is funny because it had me bracing for a tiny cameo, and when it turned out to be a little more I was still constantly dreading his departure from the movie. It’s a smallish role but I will guarantee you he gets at least one long, outstanding action sequence, that he dangles a bad guy off a building by the dick, and that they deviously play with our emotional attachment to him.

The head of the organ stealing ring is English-speaking ex-mercenary Sacha (Chris Collins, whose only previous credit is as a thug in GEN-X COPS). He wears suspenders over a sleeveless undershirt, tattooed arms under a track jacket with pin-striped slacks. His front is a frozen meat factory, and he justifies his real business to clients with a meat-eating analogy, basically saying God put these organs on the earth for us to use. Collins is an American martial arts instructor, and if you check out his websight he comes across as a very nice, earnest guy. I’m impressed because in the movie he’s so effectively sleazy. I hated his bro hat and was so happy when it got a piece chopped off of it. I hope we’ll be seeing him in more movies.

Here’s an issue for martial arts fans: Koo is an actor who they taught some martial arts to instead of a martial artist who can act. Generally I’d prefer the latter. But Koo does great with the emotional story of Lee, the harsh parenting choices he makes, the way he tries to stubbornly stick by them as what any father would do, the guilt he feels over his decisions sending Chi into danger, the single-minded and possibly hopeless fight to track her down and save her. If you compare his action scenes to Tony Jaa you’re in trouble, but they’re straight up spectacular if you keep in mind that he’s more of a Liam Neeson. (Or Johnny Depp, Matt Damon, Russell Crow, Brad Pitt, Robert Downey Jr. if you want to compare him to someone around the same age.)

And because it’s Sammo (EASTERN CONDORS) there’s gonna be so much energy and style and inventive moves like the fight inside a car where he breaks the guy’s head through the side window, then traps him by wrapping a seatbelt around his neck and elbows his skull. Or the foot chase that passes a worker mopping a floor, and both participants take a long slide. He’s always looking for little ways to use the setting and props to add flavor. And between the various lead combatants there’s plenty of flipping and crashing through windows and falling down the stairs while kicking somebody else up the stairs and grabbing a guy’s ankles and yanking them in the air and dragging him across the floor and then swinging him around and banging him against pillars. You know, the good shit. The shit movies should have.

They fight through layer after layer of security into the meat factory, and they fight Sacha and his men, and in the end they’re exhausted and bloody and there’s wreckage and dead bodies everywhere. But this is, like, the staff. This is not the bosses. Sacha is a sleazy gangster, and he’s aided by corrupt, hooker-beating cops and other seedy characters. But they’re working on behalf of the literal halls of power. When Yip is showing the mayor’s people his cameras follow down long hallways and swoop through a giant convention center, over an impossibly long meeting table, around an enormous garden. Places that are huge and expensive and empty.

And you see the mayor’s big blissful family in a mansion having a birthday party for his granddaughter. And maybe none of them know anything about the other people’s suffering that makes their happiness possible. They might have no idea. They live off in this separate world, but poor grieving Inspector Lee is about to invade it.

KILL ZONE 2 was, for me, such a powerful piece of filmmaking that it really drove home the sick inhumanity of these criminals commandeering the lives and literal bodies of the poor and the neglected for the benefit of the rich and the elite. PARADOX gets to some real emotional peaks, but overall it feels closer to a routine action movie than the previous entry does, so they seem more like routine action movie bad guys even though they’re doing the exact same thing. Overall it has a less potent sense of outrage and disgust, and yet it’s ultimately a darker and more pessimistic story. That’s okay. It’s not as inspiring, but it feels appropriate to the sick, unfair world it’s depicting.

I can’t really tell from the posters if PARADOX is officially an SPL movie anymore. I don’t think it’s labelled as such. But it has so many connections it would be weird to claim otherwise. Still, if you’re able to take it on its own terms it’s a good one.

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 Thursday, April 19th, 2018 at 1:35 pm 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.

13 Responses to “Paradox”

  1. Thanks Vern. How was the wire work? I’ve seen it criticised, but I figure those were the same folks who bleated about the wire work in SPL2. Anyway, I notice that Sammo Hung picked up the award for Best Action Choreography for PARADOX at last weekend’s Hong Kong Film Awards. Say what you like about Hong Kong film these days, but you gotta love an industry that has a headline award for action choreography!

    This and Gareth Evan’s APOSTLE are my two most anticipated movies of the year, and I’m still coming to terms with the news that Netflix has got global rights for APOSTLE. We all know great stuff has been going DTV for years, and I suspect I’d not have gotten to a cinema to see it anyway, but it still bugs me that we won’t even have that chance now.

  2. “KILL ZONE 2 is a special movie, a modern classic, in many ways unparalleled.”

    I’m gonna need you to explain yourself on this one, Vern. I like KZ2 except for its stupid ending but I wouldn’t even put it in my top 15 martial arts movies of the modern era. I forgot Tony Jaa was even in it for about a year after the first time I saw it. I had to see it twice to remember what it was about. I still have to be reminded Wu Jing is the other guy. What’s so special about it?

  3. Yeah, I don’t really get the love for either Kill Zones. KZ2 is clearly superior, and I do like the way it was shot, but the action isn’t all that great and the story is no good at all.

  4. I actively dislike the first one but have forgotten every reason why except for a vague memory of bad fight editing. I thought the action in KZ2 was pretty great (not THE RAID great but only a step or two below) and more than worth the price of admission, but I agree that the story, centered as it is entirely around coincidences the script tries to justify as the machinations of capital-F Fate, is an obstacle for me. I can see viewing it as some enjoyably ludicrous horseshit but I can’t imagine getting swept up in it unironically. I just don’t have it in me.

    And then there’s that symbolic CGI wolf, which seems like it was designed just to irritate my storytelling sensibilities.

    Related note: Why can’t they get CGI wolves right? From THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW to 300 to THE GRAY to this to the recent RAMPAGE, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that was the slightest bit convincing. Back in the practical effects days, bats used to be the animal nobody could figure out, but I think wolves have usurped them in the digital era.

  5. I saw SPL2 in Singapore with a crowd who were clearly loving it, so that may have coloured my judgement, but I don’t think there was a lot of ironic enjoyment in the room. The SPL/KZ movies are big karmic melodramas with great fights. The karma part, with all its consequent coincidences, is a tough sell, but they’re smart enough to get great actors – Simon Yam, Louis Koo, Gordon Lam – in to do the selling. Tony Jaa’s actual acting in SPL2 was career best work.

  6. Off topic, and I’d take it back to TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA if I thought you’d get there via Comments, but while you’re here Majestyk, I wanted to thank you and Shoot for convincing me to read Ross Macdonald. I started with The Drowning Pool, which was so much better than the Paul Newman movie that I was hooked, moved on to Find Victim, which is, as suggested, a nasty gem, but I just finished The Goodbye Look, which maybe the greatest book I’d never heard of before reading. Reading it was like watching someone construct a Faberge hand grenade by sleight of hand only to have them pull the pin 50 pages from the end.

  7. That’s awesome, man. I’m always happy to do my little part in bringing some of the less celebrated practitioners of the hard-boiled arts to new fans. And thanks for recommending THE GOODBYE LOOK. It’s one of the few Archers I don’t have. I guess I’ll have to track it down.

  8. That is an awesome poster.

  9. Borg9 – Oh, you know me, I enjoy artificiality in martial arts so it doesn’t occur to me to have a problem with wire work. It’s very much Sammo gravity-defying style, so the people who had a problem with it in 2 will have way more of a problem with it here, I would guess.

    I didn’t know that about APOSTLE. He’s also supposed to be doing a DC Comics movie, right? Maybe? I guess we don’t know if that will go theatrical either, the way those things have been going.

  10. Majestyk – Well, you know from my review that I find it a really moving emotional experience as well as a kick ass action movie. But here I’m referring to the latter, the envelope-pushing technical aspects of moving the camera as Jaa jumps through windows into other rooms, between multiple levels in the prison riot scene, and all the detail put into the choreography of the battle between Jaa and Wu Jing and Max Zhang to give them each their own fighting styles that reflect their characters. I know you don’t know what I see in it, but I don’t know what you DON’T see in it! I still think it’s a masterpiece.

  11. The editing in SPL is not an issue Mr. M.

    I found SPL such a bummer and if clearly was designed to make you feel bad for watching cool bad ass moments because it tried to show you what would really happen in real life. Like the dude he punches. Karma sure is depressing.

  12. Vern: I have no problem at all with you liking it (or anything) more than I do. Almost everybody likes most things more than I do, except for the few things I like more than anybody should. I was just trying to figure out what you think is “unparalleled” about KZ2. That I can’t see. To me, it just feels like a Korean movie with better choreography than usual, but not so much better that it’s operating on its own level. But that’s splitting hairs, semantics, and thus not worth this much discussion. I’ll still happily see KZ3, especially knowing it is wolf-free.

  13. * By “Korean,” I mean its feel is similar to that of a melodramatic Korean thriller, not that I think the movie is literally Korean.

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