SPL (HK 2005)

Rating: ****
Alternate Title: Kill Zone
Review Date: 4/17/10
Director: Wilson Yip
Action Director: Donnie Yen
Cast: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Samo Hung, Jacky Wu (Wu Jing)

An excellent return to form for the Hong Kong film industry. Crime lord Wong Po (Samo Hung) is acquitted and set free when a key witness in the case is killed. This sparks an escalating feud between Wong and Inspector Chan (Simon Yam) which can only lead to tragedy. Chan has a terminal brain tumor and wants to wrap up his vendetta with Wong before he retires, but Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) gets thrown into the mix as Chan's replacement before he can fulfill his goal. Curiously, Donnie Yen is the level headed cop this time around and Simon Yam is the one with a hot temper and rage issues. Ma is at odds with Chan's unscrupulous methods, but ultimately ends up helping him out. The shocking and poetically beautiful climax managed to take me by surprise, which is unusual these days.

While the film is a slow starter and a bit on the melodramatic side, it eventually slips into a steady groove and maintains a high level of tension and intensity. The dramatic tension is on par with Johnny To's work and the characters are well developed and emotionally resonant. Simon Yam gives an excellent performance which sets the dramatic tone of the film. Both Donnie Yen and Samo Hung give excellent performances as well, and it's nice to see Samo playing a villain. He's very intense and intimidating, and his presence commands fear and respect. He also has a very tender and sentimental side, which nicely rounds him out as a sympathetic character. Additionally, he delivers an astonishing fighting performance, which represents his best work in years. I wasn't sure he still had it in him. Donnie Yen gives an exceptionally deep performance as a morally conflicted cop, and I've rarely seen him emote so passionately and effectively. Of course, his fight choreography and execution are stunning, and the film's key scenes feature him squaring off against both Samo Hung and a surprisingly vicious Jacky Wu. Yen keeps the fighting real and ground based, and understands how to film body language to the best effect. As a result, the fight scenes are extremely exciting and enjoyable to watch. The music score is also noteworthy and it keeps the mood appropriately tense and grim. An excellent action film in all regards.