Movie Review: 殺破狼 / “SPL” (2005 HK film Starring Donnie Yen)

Known also as “Kill Zone” in some countries.

Director Wilson Yip, from 2005 to 2007, made 3 films in consecutive years, all starring Donnie Yen.  “SPL” in 2005, “Dragon Tiger Gate” in 2006, and “Flash Point” in 2007.

Dragon Tiger Gate was a dumb but acceptable action flick that was based on a comic book.  Flash Point was a much more violent action film that incorporated Mixed Martial Arts into its fight scenes.  While MMA is certainly popular, and Donnie Yen loves it, I’m not sure if cops will actually fight like… oh wait, they’re not cops, they’re human superheroes.

But I want to talk a bit about SPL.  The title is an abbreviation for a term that was explained at the beginning of the film but bares no significance.  Wilson Yip, who also subsequently directed the two “Ip Man” films in 08 and 10, shows a blatant disregard for subtlety while using sappy sentimentality to try to garner emotions from his audience.  The scripts for his film are laughingly predictable and his direction adds nothing to the material.  He is lucky to have collaborated with Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung, both of whom were at the helm to choreograph the fight sequences for his films.

Having said that, SPL is the best film when compared to Dragon Tiger Gate and Flash Point.  That is, with the exception of the last 10 minutes or so.  What SPL had that the other two films didn’t is a cast that can actually act, with the exception of Donnie Yen, of course.  Strangely enough, all of the ads of the film, or the dvd covers, all post the face of Yen and Hung, while Simon Yam, who plays the main and key character of the film, appears in a dimmed picture on the back.

Yam and his supporting team of three detectives steal the show, as they bring to the film a emotional force that Donnie Yen’s acting or Wilson Yip’s directing never could.  It goes to show how much good acting can do to make something out of a formulaic script.  I applaud Yam and the supporting cast.

Just when I was enjoying SPL, all the way through the final fight scene (which features a bag-throwing so hilarious I had to rewind and watch again), and just when I thought the film was over, something horrible happened…

I don’t want to ruin anything.  I would say that that entire sequence right after the final fight scene was so ridiculous that when it was over I stared at my TV in awe.  I could not believe that such a half-decent film fuelled by good acting through the first two-thirds could be complete and utterly ruined by this act.  For me, the film went from a commendable Hong Kong action picture to a piece of sappy trash because of that scene.

Wilson Yip is currently on a good roll, having directed the insanely-popular and ludicrously-historically-inaccurate Ip Man films.  Perhaps Donnie Yen is pretty much done with making intense action flicks.  But if he’s not, I hope he finds a different director that doesn’t waste his time or talents.

Author: dky1

A graduated (but still caffeinated) student. I write mostly politics and movie reviews in the Third Cup blog, and some fiction, short stories, and gaming journal on the Loner's Diaries blog.

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