The very first film that featured the first Wilson Yip-Donnie Yen collaboration is “SPL: Sha Po Lang” (re-titled Killzone in the U.S.). This film is a welcome return to Hong Kong crime noir and cool martial arts action. It is easily one of the best action films of 2005 and has proven that the Yip and Yen tag team can bring out a quality motion picture, as they have since followed their success in “Dragon Tiger Gate”, “Flash Point” and most notably “IP MAN”.
Qui SHA is the power star, PO Jun is the ruinous star and Tan LANG is the flirting star.
Hong Kong 1994, Inspector Chan (Simon Yam) is a cop escorting the key witness to the hearing of triad kingpin, Wong Po (Sammo Hung). When an intentional accident kills the key witness, Po is set free, leaving only Chan and the child of the witness to his care. Now, 3 years have passed and Inspector Chan is a cop carrying a grudge against Wong Po, and he is still caring for the child. Chan is now on the road to retirement after being diagnosed with brain tumor, and Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) is now the newly appointed commander to take over Chan’s post in 3 days. Chan’s unit (made up of Danny Summer, Ken Chang and Liu Kai-Chi) is furious that they agree to go to extreme lengths to put Wong Po behind bars, those steps include framing Po for murder and even stealing his money. Inspector Ma is caught in a crossfire between Chan and Wong Po as the final reckoning is about to unravel…
“SPL” is a gripping cop drama that blends elements of noir and martial arts action. While martial arts films have been branded with the stereotypical simple plot, director Wilson Yip manages to build the storyline around its characters led by Simon Yam, Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen. The cops in the film have their own share of humanity, their lives feel very real as they are burdened with family and duty. Wilson Yip successfully brings the lives of our cops into exposition and he also never forgets to bring forth a needed humanity to its main antagonist played by Sammo Hung; Wong Po is one ruthless and evil individual, but never for one minute do the viewer forgets that he is also capable of emotion as exhibited with his loving exchanges with his wife and month old baby. The cops, Sum and Wah (Danny Summer and Liu Kai Chi respectively) have failures in their family affairs as their duties as policemen always seemed to take precedence. It was nice for Yip to set up their final meetings/conversation with those they love. Ma is a man who had badly beaten a drug trafficker in the past that the suspect had suffered brain damage, yet we see Ma trying to atone for his mistake as demonstrated by his implied weekly visits to the former drug dealer.
All these serve up to bring emotion into the screenplay and it truly does succeed in the film’s build up towards its climax. The screenplay also manages to bring several morality questions as we see Chan’s unit stoop to lengths quite questionable to our eyes. “Obsession can bring one closer to ruin when he becomes the one thing he fights against…” may well also be the film’s central theme. Yes, “SPL” does manage to pitch in an intricate storyline that involve the morality questions a righteous cop may face. Sure these guys are total coolness, even when they are being corrupt, because they may seem to have an honorable goal to some eyes. In the world of “SPL”, everyone has their own challenges and anger to deal with. Even bad guys while ruthless and uncaring on the outside, may have a sense of humanity on the inside.
While the film’s emotional sequences help set up the film’s climax, to some it may serve to hamper the film’s pace by downplaying on the action scenes. But the action (choreographed by Donnie Yen himself) delivers in spades, as we see a very intensity-filled baton versus knife alleyway fight between Donnie Yen and Jing Wu (who plays Wong Po‘s chief enforcer) that precedes the one with Hung and Yen achieved ‘iconic status‘. The fight was nicely paced and excellently shot as we see Yip manipulate the camera movements to pans, zoom outs and zoom ins for close ups to exhibit the fight‘s emotion. The Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung final fight was also excellently executed, but it was arguably a little outshined by the fight before. Yen utilized the style that defined his character with the use of Boxing, Judo, Jiu-Jitsu accompanied by stiff-legged kicks. While the fight that preceded the Yen-Sammo Hung encounter, is smartly played to its build ups, as the final fight adding the closing remark and climactic end.
“SPL” isn’t exactly an action-packed affair, but there is some nice bits of action dispersed throughout, it just leaves a very strong impression that it is a balls-to-walls actioner because of the way it builds up on its final climactic encounter, when the film is actually more of a crime drama than a martial arts film. The action in “SPL” is exquisitely played and the set up is just one effective exclamation point. The viewer could sense that the final encounter would be bad, just how bad it would be just kept me totally gripped by its screenplay--and when I saw its climax, I was literally blown away due to the impact in its narrative. The film may have a bit of a bombastic style as the soundtrack by Chan Kwong-Wing (Infernal Affairs) pitches the film’s sequences with all guns blazing.
Wilson Yip manages to engage his audience not by the film’s storyline (admittedly, the film’s plot isn’t original), or by its script and performances, granted the film’s story is quite generically simple and it does make its symbolic sub-theme a little irrelevant; but “SPL” has tons of cinematic flamboyance that whatever flaws it does have, they could easily be forgotten--even Donnie Yen’s occasional over-acting is forgiven. “SPL” is a lot better than most crime thrillers as it manages to channel come factors of unpredictability, with its climax being one tragic big bang. Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen has delivered one of the most solid action films of 2005.
An effective crime drama that pays attention to its characters. It also manages to build up on the climactic final encounter that gives it a lot of 'bang'. My favorite action movie of 2005. See Full Review here.
KILL ZONE Let it be known that I am a huge fan of these kinds of films and in fact own every Dragon Dynasty release that they have put out thus far. I decided that the best place to start would be with the first release from the company and that is this wonderful film called "SPL" or by this release "Kill Zone". If you are like me you have the original release but for the average viewer this is probably the best way to go, and the special features are … more
I have heard both negative and positive things about this film but in eyes this is a classic, how could it be any thing less? With the Dragon Dynasty release you will get behind the scenes action and a very informative commentary among other things. Writer/director Yip Wai Shun [Wilson Yip], and writers Szeto Kam Yuen [Kam-Yuen Szeto], and Ng Wai Lun [Wai Lun Ng] did a great job with this film. If you don't already own this I say go get it now, it is worth it. Also the on this film is some amazing … more
SPL: Sha Po Lang, also known in the United States as Kill Zone, is a 2005 Hong Kong martial arts-action-crime film directed by Wilson Yip, with fight choreography by the film's star Donnie Yen. The film co-stars Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, and Wu Jing. Yam portrays a retiring police detective who resorts to the use of questionable methods in order to catch Wong Po (Hung), a ruthless Triad boss.
The title, Sha Po Lang refers to three words derived from Chinese astrology that each represent a different star capable of good or evil depending on their position in the heavens.