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}T (2005)

Reviewed by: Beat TG
Date: 02/16/2009
Summary: Good blend of drama and MA action

Having read director Wilson Yip's statement about current HK movies being rich on strong acting and poor on action scenes and vice versa and further commented that he wanted to make a movie to showcase as much strong acting and action combined, I felt the same way. The opportunity didn't take long until he hooked up with "washed-up" MA star and (otherwise) acclaimed action choreographer Donnie Yen (In The Line Of Duty 4, Tiger Cage 2, Once Upon A Time In China 2, Iron Monkey, Blade 2 and Hero) and together created an excellent formula that can be considered original in many aspects.

The results are some of the most explosive MA action scenes of recent times combined of course with great acting, top-notch cinematography, a very catchy music score (that accompanies the more dramatic scenes) and a wonderful cast consisting of Simon Yam, Donnie Yen (his acting performance was quite a surprise), Sammo Hung (the big surprise comes from him though), Liu Kai Chi, Ken Cheung, Austin Wai and unlucky MA performer Wu Jing.

Wilson Yip and Donnie Yen work really well as a team and as proved recently in Ip Man (which I would consider their best collaboration to date), this team just keeps getting better and better. Hopefully, they can continue to reach new and higher levels as much as possible before Donnie's age is catching up.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: dalvin
Date: 08/09/2008
Summary: Not enough action

It was summer, the year 2006 and I had been completely blown away by a movie I had just received in the mail, so blown away that I had to watch it a second time and after watching it the second time I wondered 'what did I see that made me love it the first time around.

The story revolves around three characters who have been brought together seemingly by fate. Chan (Simon Yam) an honorable detective who has always done everything by the book, Ma(Donnie Yen) a detective who lives by the code of 'the ends justify the means' and Po (Sammo Hung), a ruthless crimelord who only shows his soft side when it comes to his family, are three men who who have seemingly different personalities that are about to clash and change.

The character Po is played brilliantly by Sammo Hung and is the only character that is fleshed out enough so not to be looked at as completely ridiculous. It's mainly because his character doesn't change from begining to end.

When it comes to Simon Yam, let me say he is one of the best character actors around, his character, Chan, is so poorly written, that when you watch the movie you begin to wonder why he does some of the things he does. I don't want to say what those are as not to spoil this movie for the 1 or 2 people who have yet to watch this movie. Chan, upon realising he only has a few months to live throws away all his beliefs to catch Po, the ultimate Mafia Boss, in doing so his character goes from sympathetic to being just a plain idiot in what he does.

Now, we have Ma(Yen), a character who I can't even describe, some of his scenes are pointless such as the flash back scene. But, boy is he needed at the end.

The script seems as though it had been written by a Straight to video script writer, the dialog at times is drab, and a lot of the situations in this film just seem to come out of nowhere and are completely unrealistic. So many plot holes in this movie that I just don't even want to talk about it.

But, I do want to talk about the fights, this is when the movie delivers and it delivers big time. Wu Jing (who is criminally under-used in this) and Donnie Yen have one of the best weapon fights I have ever seen. So brutal and beautiful at the same time, jaw-dropping, classic stuff. Then tight after that, we see Donnie and Sammo go at it one on one and this fight scene blew me away more than the last, I had never seen anything like it before; the grappling, the hand to hand, the throwing, simply amazing. The only problem with the action is there is not enough of it.

Wilson Yip is a mediocre writer who knows how to direct fun movies. SPL is not a movie to be taken serious, but a pop corn flick with a decent premise and some of the best action ever put on film. The idea behind SPL is solid and if delivered right could have made the entire movie a classic instead of just the last 20 minute.

Bottom Line-- Amateur script, mediocre direction, and classic fight scenes.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Chungking_Cash
Date: 02/01/2008

Touted by some reviewers as a return to pre-handover Hong Kong action filmmaking "SPL" (short for "Sha Po Lang") nonetheless suffers from multiple personality disorder that the film's post-handover writers (including director Wilson Yip) cannot sufficiently manage like the days of yore.

Officially categorized as an action picture "SPL" is equal parts crime, drama, and martial arts. As fitting as those labels are they are anything but seamlessly branched often forcing the audience to adjust emotionally every time a genre shift has taken place.

Oh, this is a gung fu flick, too?

Sammo Hung returns to his roots of villainy as a triad boss who is being pursued by the seemingly ageless Simon Yam a detective suffering from an inoperable brain tumor on the eve of retirement (Father's Day, circa 1997, a theme that fits prominently with the film's characters among other things).

Donnie Yen is the new kid on the block set to replace the amoral Yam and take over his equally amoral squad.

Jacky Wu Jing, in a welcomed turn, is Hung's ruthless hitman.

The mixed martial arts is choreographed by Yen who perhaps because of the recent success of Thailand's "Ong Bak" chose to dazzle audiences with the possibilities of combat free of reliance on CGI, under-cranking, and wires.

To that end "SPL" lives up to the hype.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Anticlimacus
Date: 11/12/2007
Summary: Awesome!

This fantastic action/drama focuses on character development for the first hour or so, then showcases a spectacular showdown between Donnie Yen and Wu Jing amidst the neon lights of a Hong Kong alleyway, as well as a good final fight between Donnie and Sammo Hung.

The martial arts choreography is simply amazing, and the filmmakers did a fine job of building emotion into the fights, which are brutally violent. The sheer intensity and explosiveness of the action in this film far surpasses most other films in the genre.

It's truly interesting how Donnie Yen has transformed himself from an overrated hack into (arguably) the most impressive action star in Hong Kong over the past few years. Seriously, his pre-2005 resume is pretty awful (with the exception of Iron Monkey). I assume that Wilson Yip is a big reason for this, and I'm truly glad that Donnie has finally hit his "prime" - albeit in his 40s.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: j.crawford
Date: 11/15/2006
Summary: intensely compelling

Director Wilson Yip Wai-Shun has made a remarkable film that has put him in the international spotlight. Working with Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Donnie Yen Ji-Dan, and Jacky Wu Jing, it would be hard for a gifted director like Yip to make a bad modern day martial arts film. Inventive, entertaining and intensely compelling, SPL is an instant classic. It is the best Hong Kong movie of 2005. Look for Liu Kai-Chi playing a cop with a troubling, dark family history who looks for closure when it is, sadly, too late.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 07/15/2006
Summary: Crime doesn't pay

SPL is a tale of cops and gangsters, with the cops trying to outdo the triads for nastiness in the pursuit of justice. Inspector Chan Kwok-Chung (Simon Yam) and his gang are so determined to put Wong Po (Sammo Hung) behind bars that they tamper with evidence at the drop of a hat to get results, much to the chagrin of Chan’s prospective successor Ma (Donnie Yen). Much to everyone’s surprise, though, Ma is brought around to Chan’s way of thinking and joins in the vigilante fun.

A quick scan down my review list shows that I prefer the somewhat “older” Hong Kong film, and I'll admit not being terribly keen on the latest wave of action movie. I have also written derisively about Cat III films from time to time. So has SPL changed my opinion on either subject?

The answer is: yeah, I suppose so. It’s certainly very well made. Sammo Hung as the main villain is an inspired choice, and he plays the role with obvious relish. He never once descends into pantomime villainy, often a criticism of Hong Kong films. In fact, for all his nastiness (and make no mistake, he really IS nasty) he is also a loving husband and devoted father. In fact the theme of family, and particular fatherhood, is a motif that crops up throughout the whole film. Near the end, Sammo is allowed to speak one more time to his family in a poignant scene that John Woo would have been proud of.

On the downside, the viewer is expected to swallow an awful lot in regard to the plot at times. This is not normally a problem for me, but perversely the high quality of the production does tend to draw one’s attention to the improbabilities of some of the storyline. For example, I doubt very much that Simon Yam and his crew would be able to get away with half the stuff in real life that they pull off with ease in this film.

The action is, for the most part, brief and to the point. And with the exception of a few shots near the end, they seem to be relatively free from the kind of new-age gimmickry we’ve come to expect from action films these days. The parallels between this and the Thai film ONG-BAK are quite justified, as the success of ONG-BAK must have been a sobering experience for Hong Kong filmmakers. Donnie Yen is clearly meant to be the star of the piece, and is not undercranked to the ridiculous degree as in some of his earlier films. However, he is eclipsed at every turn by the bad guys he fights, most notably by Jacky Wu Jing, who is simply superb. He was apparently in DRUNKEN MONKEY, but that film made such a small impression on me that I can’t remember a single thing about it.

I was amused to learn that this film was directed by Yip Wai-Shun, who had directed an interesting little film called BIO-ZOMBIE, which was Hong Kong’s answer to George Romero’s classic DAWN OF THE DEAD. These two films couldn’t be more different!

SPL is certainly worth watching, and entertains well enough. But I'm not sure it will stand the test of time, and it didn't tittilate me as much as I'd like.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 03/22/2006
Summary: Donnie Yen hears the call and answers...

SPL, the highly anticipated and then applauded police thriller from Wilson Yip, had a lot of hype to live up to when I popped it in my DVD player. Fortunately, it lived up in almost every fashion to the praise it had received. It has been called a return to the gritty, crime drama style that had made Hong Kong cinema so popular in the 90s and it certainly follows that formula and succeeds. Simon Yam plays an embattled Inspector who has made it his life's mission to take down the crime lord Wong Po, played masterfully by the legendary Sammo Hung. As his tenure on the force is quickly winding down and a new inspector (Donnie Yen) is coming to take his place, he decides to pull out all the stops in his quest to capture Wong, even if it means skirting police procedures and coming very close to the line of becoming a vigilante. Ma Kwan (Donnie Yen), who has crossed this line before, must decide if he wants to join Inspector Chan (Simon Yam) and his men back to the decent into lawlessness, even if a greater good would be accomplished by the ends.

SPL combines solid acting, a plausible, well-constructed plot and expertly choreographed fight scenes to produce an excellent film that reminds us of the magic that can be created by the film industry in Hong Kong. When Ong Bak, the Thai martial arts masterpiece, was released and caught the attention of so many for its unbelievable fighting sequences, Donnie Yen has (in effect) commented that he had to raise the bar and show that Hong Kong was on par with anyone. The resulting scenes in SPL are truly groundbreaking in many aspects. Yen incorporates a large amount of grappling, locks and throws into the choreography. The most ambitious battles between him and the fantastic Wu Jing and then him and Sammo Hung illustrate where screen martial arts could be heading. Although, in general, we are not used to seeing this type of MMA style, it is expertly filmed and is just as exciting as more traditional wushu fights. Although SPL certainly boasts a top-notch cast, with the excellent Simon Yam and versatile character actor Liu Kai-Chi, the movie is greatly improved by the presence of Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung. I've never seen Donnie come off so charismatic in a film before and perhaps that is due to the passion that he felt for the movie itself and his significant role in the production. Sammo Hung is also in rare form as the gangster Wong Po, a role we have rarely seen him in. He seems to revel in the chance to delve into the darker side of a character, and comes off as a dangerous and powerful man to be reckoned with.

Hopefully, SPL will usher in a new era in the Hong Kong film industry that will bring it back to the glory days in terms of creativity and action.

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 03/15/2006
Summary: An outstanding bad guy

“SPL” has attracted a number of exceptionally written reviews and I can’t add much to the discussion of the overall impact of the movie, even though there has been a real diversity of opinion regarding its merits. There are, however, a couple of points....

Sammo Hung as Wong Po is a truly scary and evil movie gangsters, comparable to Robert De Niro as Al Capone in “The Untouchables”, Joe Pesci as Nicky Santoro in “Casino” or Kirk Douglas as Noll Turner in “I Walk Alone”. Each of these guys had a presence that went beyond being a mob boss—you got the sense that they would dominate any situation they walked into and had been doing so for many years. The Al Capone character is one type of underworld leader that Hollywood likes to represent—the thug who shot his way to the top and is still the toughest guy in the room, no matter what room. If he has to beat a man to death with a baseball bat to make a point he will. Noll Turner is the other side, the criminal who, while be no means going straight, has filed off a lot of the rough edges and who is happy to let his underlings deal with the messy stuff like beating and killing. He is still ruthless but no longer enjoys feeling the crunch of bones breaking beneath his fists.

Wong Po is a terrific character because he combines both types of cinema mobsters. It is difficult to imagine someone better suited for this role than Sammo Hung. Like De Niro, her brings a feeling of menace when he first appears on the screen. You know immediately that this is a man to be reckoned with, the one guy who will define what everyone else in the movie does. The costuming—a three piece suit with the vest buttoned and the tied tight—both conceals and accentuates his bulk. The costuming, lighting and framing make him look enormous, even when he is sitting down. The scene in prison in which he makes a call on his lawyer’s mobile phone, despite a guard telling him he can’t do that, then pocketing the phone and challenging the guard to take it away from him, is a perfect example. The guard is standing in the foreground of the shot and may as well be a part of the wall. The lawyer faces Wong Po and partially faces away from the camera. Wong Po sits, as solid as a stone Buddha and as big as a boulder, facing the camera and the guard. Even while seated he looms over the other two.

This scene is also important in showing just how personally powerful Wong Po is. Even when he is in custody the viewer knows he is the most dominant and even compelling person in the police station and one can see why he is so dismissive of the efforts to Chan and his team to bring him down. A lot of very bad things can happen when one is in the control of the police, even when he is protected by the senior officer present, which Wong is. One can be shot while trying to escape, can fall down a flight of stone stairs while being moved from one section of the jail to another, can slip and fall, striking his head against the metal corner of a filing cabinet. One almost assumes it will happen when the bad guy in question has been hunted for years by the team of cops who brought him in. But Sammo walks into the jail the same way he walks into his office—his Wong Po is still in command of the situation and, while being inconvenienced by the being arrested it won’t slow him down much—his slick Noll Turner side. The rough and crude Al Capone side comes out when he is leaving—he tells Chan that Chan won’t leave the police station alive. He is completely credible when he does this—you feel that he has is able to completely reverse the power equation and reach into the stronghold of the police to kill a senior officer.

During the scenes of violence, not limited to the final battle between Wong and Ma Kwan, one was always aware that this was Sammo Hung on the screen. Even though the use of stunt doubles and constructive editing was obvious, Sammo’s accomplishments and reputation as a great actor, martial artist, fight choreographer and director accompanied ever move that Wong Po made. One didn’t see an overweight fifty-three year old who has taken a lot of punishment over the years. One saw Gei Cheun of “Warriors Two”, Fat Tung of “Pedicab Driver” and Butcher Wing of “The Victim”.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 03/08/2006
Summary: getting back on the right track...

well, it's no 'tiger cage', or is it? the scripting and narrative is slightly less cheesy than 'tiger cage', but it's action sequences aren't quite as full on. still, it's been a while since hong kong have churned out a decent cops and kung-fu flick. this isn't great, but it's a good watch and is definately a step in the right direction - overall, i was pleased with it, but wanted more.

essentially the film follows simon yam and his team, as they try to bring sammo hung, a vicious gangster, to justice, donnie yen arrives for the last few days of simon yam's time in charge, before he takes control of his team.

the film looks great, the soundtrack is a little hit and miss, there's solid performances alround, especially from lam, hung and jing wu; the latter stealing the show. sammo is pretty damn scary as the bad guy and jing wu finally get's a role that really suits him, despite it's size. right, now what about the action?

well, there seems to have been a few missed opportunities to really cut loose, but what there was did the job. hopefully, this can act as a catalyst to reignite this recently neglected side of hong kong cinema. if this is their reaction to 'ong-bak', let's hope that they build on it after 'tom yoong gum' and come up with something with that little bit extra.

as i said, it's not fantastic, but it's most definately a step in the right direction. more like this please...

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 02/28/2006
Summary: Sizzling with energy

Watching SPL is a sheer blast of an experience that makes every other HK movie I'd seen from 2005 seem rather incompetent. It definitely reminded me how long it has been since I've seen a decent action flick from HK. Without a doubt, SPL is the best HK movie I've seen from 2005.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 01/31/2006

After being jaded by sub-standard fare like Himalaya Singh, Where is Mama's Boy and Legend of the Dragon over the past year, it took a lot for most Hong Kong film fans to sit up and take notice. The trailer for SPL created a quick buzz among the internet fan community, and it became one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Thankfully, SPL is one of the few Hong Kong releases in 2005 that actually lived up to the hype. It's not quite a classic, but it marked at least a small return to the hard-hitting and violent action HK action fans have come to know and love over the years.

SPL -- like most martial arts movies -- has a pretty basic plot. Simon Yam plays a cop who has been diagnosed with cancer. Before he retires and hands over his squad to Donnie Yen, Simon wants to bring down the big Triad boss (Sammo Hung) that has been the albatross around his neck. Even though the plot is staright-forward, the screenwriters unfortunately try to over-do things, and, as such, the secondary characters become overdeveloped at the expnese of the main characters. It might seem strange to quibble about something like this in an action movie, but SPL devotes a lot of its' running time to dramatic scenes, rather than fights, and these parts ultimately don't add up to that much. It's kind of an in-joke among martial arts movie fans that the exposition scenes are just filler to get to the next brawl -- SPL really does feel like that. The actors do a good job and these scenes are well-shot, but it just seems like there could have been so much more to them, and the first two-thirds of the film come off as a bit flat as a result.

Thankfully, like many of the action movies produced during Hong Kong's "golden age", SPL really steps up the kung fu quotient during the last half-hour. Of particular note are a couple of fights that Donnie Yen (who also helmed the action direction, which reins in of his usual undercranking and wire antics for blood sprays, which is a refreshing change) participates in: first against newcomer Jing Wu, and then with HK veteran Sammo Hung. Jing, a young martial artist known for his wushu skills, has been called the next Jet Li by some, and his debut does not disappoint. It's not on the level of Tony Jaa's bone-crunching turn in Ong Bak, but Jing certainly has some potential, and I look forward to seeing where his career goes. As for Sammo, he has a tremendous fight with Donnie to end the film. It might be too short for many fans who view this as a dream matchup, but keep in mind that Sammo is in his fifties, and he's probably never going to be able to pull off something like his work in Pedicab Driver again.

If you're looking for something with a deep plot or great acting, then SPL probably isn't up your alley. It does try to be something more than your usual martial arts movie. But, ultimately, any trappings of dramatics are wisely put to the side so that the viewer can experience some of the best hand-to-hand fighting Hong Kong has put on-screen over the last few years.

[review from www.hkfilm.net]

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 01/21/2006

Hype can be a terrible thing, and since SPL has been riding a wave of hype for months I was apprehensive about watching it... I tried to forget what I'd heard and just treat it as something unknown, but inevitably I was more acutely aware of the film's flaws than I would have been if people hadn't been saying "The best HK action film of the past 10 years" left, right and centre.

Let me begin with those flaws then - firstly, the plot relies a little too much on cliche to generate emotion. Doesn't work. Secondly, the soundtrack is over-zealous in its attempts to manipulate our feelings... and there's just too much of it! Some scenes would have been better left without music. Thirdly, Donnie Yen's ego is still as radiant as ever, and he can't resist showing off for the camera - he seems too often to be saying "I know you love me, here's one of my trademark moves in slow motion so you can get off to it"... which is kind of gross :-S

Now on to the good stuff! SPL is a pretty lean and economical film, delivering a cops & robbers story without too many diversions. The pacing is sharp, and there is no comedy to be found. The film doesn't have quite as much action as I'd expected, but when it comes it's brutal and FAST! Not just because of Donnie's undercranking either, though there is a bit - mostly it's genuine speed from the fighters. There are some well choreographed sections, with a lot of wrestling moves thrown in - something that gives Donnie's fights a unique feel. The scenes with Wu Jing are particularly impressive just for their speed and ferocity - the guy showed he had talent in TAI CHI II, but has worked mostly in TV since then - I hope he'll do more films, as he's not lost his speed or agility. And saving the best until last... Sammo is back! I'm sure it's no coincidence that the two most impressive HK action films of recent vintage feature the portly master, and he gets to show more of his skills here than he did in DRAGON SQUAD (and with no obvious doubling this time). He plays the bad guy with relish, making his character by far the most interesting in the film, and he fights with real aggression, power and speed. We simply haven't had enough Sammo action on HK screens in the past 10 years, and these two films rub it in - what potential greatness have we missed?

It's a shame there's not more fighting in SPL - it's clear the cast + crew were making a sincere effort to restamp Hong Kong's mark on the world of martial arts films - to show young upstarts like Thailand, Korea and France that the tiny territory still leads the way in hard-hitting fight action. Whilst it's a respectable bid, it must be said that nothing impresses quite as much here as Tony Jaa in ONG BAK or the Belle/Rafaelli antics in BANLIEUE 13. It's also not really up to the calibre of HK's glory day work like IN THE LINE OF DUTY IV. Donnie Yen clearly has some interesting ideas when it comes to choreography, but he also tends to re-use the same moves too much (that bloody triple-kick got tired well over a decade ago, for instance) and is too obsessed with making himself look cool to let others share the spotlight for long. It would have been nice if there'd been some other choreographers on set to keep him in check.

Given that HK has really let itself go in the action department over recent years, the fact that films like SPL and DRAGON SQUAD are being made is a relief and an encouraging sign. I don't think either is the sort of classic people will still be talking about in 20 years time, but if they do well enough to encourage investors to make more of these films and give the young martial artists out there the training and incentive... maybe Hong Kong really can reclaim its action throne one day :)

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 01/18/2006
Summary: the best crime movie of the year, which isnt very hard.........

The movie feels like its style over substance. Scenes where 3 cops confront a big group of triads sets the stage for a violent confrontation.And violent also meaning bloody, it deserves its cat.3 rating

Most Donnie yen movies has him playing the "cool" character and this is no different.SAmmo Hung looks great as the main bad guy, though he has put on some kilo's. JAcky Wu plays a small part as the top assassin and Simon Yam plays his role simliar to that of PTU

The good guy characters are developed well, consider you are looking into 5 cops lives. Apart from the main characters, Liu Kai-Chi was the stand out of the other cops. His broody character made him a interesting character

My main gripe with the characters are actually the bad guys.JAcky Wu is suppose to be a crazy killer, but all you see is the way he kills people and his freaky smile. A little more background on his character would of helped create a better idea that this guy loves to kill. Also Sammo Hung's character doesnt show enough meany-ness too.

Despite what reviwer abbot says, Donnie yens last 2 fight scenes ARE the main attraction of the movie. There hasnt been such a good fight scene in years!! What made it more exciting was the grappling style that Donnie yen uses, it made it something different to watch.

EAsily one of the best movies for 2005


Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: bkasten
Date: 12/22/2005
Summary: Thin disguise

At one level, SPL is few-holds-barred old school HK melodramatic revenge, thinly disguised as modern police drama with a tinge of sentiment and a dash of noir. On another level it's a thinly disguised Donnie Yen vehicle with Simon Yam doing the majority of the dramatic acting. Thinly disguised it may be, though, it is still a solidly done ultra-violent revenge film. On the other hand, if extreme violence is not your thing, then avoid this.

So what we have here is Sammo as the bad guy, with Simon Yam and Donnie Yen playing 'serious' lead dramatic roles...leaving us initially wondering whether this is meant to be taken seriously.

But, actually, it's not a problem. All three of these leads are well known for their various legendary period works as (cardboard) action heroes, and with the right set and setting can do an admirable job of keeping the viewer interested, angry and excited...relative lack of acting skills aside. And while Sammo is Sammo, he is not a complete stranger to playing the "bad guy" role.

Other than a brief foray into noir land where the cops wonder a bit if they are good guys or bad guys, a murder rampage here and there, a lead pipe beating, plus an unusually and atypically large dose of sentiment with various women and children in the lives of the good guys as well as the big bad guy, this is Chang Cheh old-school brotherhood theme melded into a modern setting, with a well-written and not overly pandering script that is very tightly directed. The excellent cinematography and score also add to the experience.

The Writers and Director Wilson Yip have to be credited for keeping this film reined in and within the actor's relative abilities--especially when Donnie is on screen in a tight shot and one prepares oneself for the onslaught of ham. But it never happens. And whenever the film wants to go off on its own for a while, it quickly returns, leaving us with a straightforward and tight story that really maintains one's interest all along.

The dramatic focus is, fortunately, on the best actor in the film--Simon Yam--who, when he is on, can be excellent; and about 95% of the time here he really lights up the screen. And when he wasn't doing it, Liu Kai-Chi really helped in turning in a wonderful supporting role. Certainly not award winning stuff, but definitely in the zone...and vastly overshadowing all other dramatic performances in the film.

Several times the dramatic focus would shift to a Donnie choreographed martial art scene where the focus was on Wu Jing, Sammo, and Donnie...and Wu Jing as the ruthless assassin truly stole the show with several absolutely breathtaking moves and fight sequences. The penultimate fight between he and Donnie was fast, violent, and highly realistic; and leaving one with the lingering doubt as to whether Donnie could actually beat the formidable Wu Jing.

One could argue this fight is the high point of the film as the viewer's rage is so built up at this point you just want to see the Wu Jing character die horribly...leaving the final fight sequence rather anti-climactic...largely due to the fact that one never fully develops a deep hatred for the somewhat undeveloped Sammo character.

The closing Donnie vs. Sammo fight appeared to be something out of the WWF with throws and grappling moves and much furniture being destroyed. Quite unusual, actually...and very Hollywood. It looked like a demo tape of scenes for Donnie to present to Hollywood. Here I am guys! And again, all rather anti-climactic.

Ultimately, this is a rage and angst driven film that elevates the viewer's emotion to the point where you care enough to want to see the protagonist tear apart the bad guy. On that level, this is a primal film that is very effective. As to what socially redeeming value such a concept has, we can leave that to others to decide.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: danton
Date: 12/03/2005

SPL doesn't quite deserve the level of hype it's been receiving, but it's still one of the better HK action movies in recent years. Very dark and gritty in tone (kind of like an early Milkyway film), Wilson Yip has crafted a fast-paced and at times brutal crime drama that transports you back to the days when "action" was still taken seriously in the HK movie industry. No room for pretty teen idols in the cast of this film - and in fact, no room for women at all. SPL features an all male cast, with Sammo, Donnie and Simon Yam as the three leads (and Wu Jing in a memorable supporting role). Sammo is very convincing as the villain, and Donnie's "radiant ego" (to quote Mr_Booth) shines bright without being annoying for once. His fight w/ Wu Jing is the highlight of the film (and one hopes that Wu Jing's movie career will be revived by his performance in SPL).

The action is not spectacular compared to what was common 15 years ago, but given the garbage action we've been subjected to in recent years (Twin Effects 2!!!!!!!!), I was grateful. There's no CGI, no wires, and no stylized gunplay - it's all hand to hand combat and actual humans doing stuntwork (Sammo may have lost some of his agility, but he still knows how to crash into things in convincing fashion).

The plot is bare-bones, characterization and dialogue are minimal, and the first 20 minutes start off rather slow. But once the film gets going, it's no holds barred.

Infernal Affairs still is the best crime drama produced in HK in recent years, but SPL joins the ranks of So Close and New Police Story as the best of the recent martial arts action films.


Reviewed by: Brian Thibodeau
Date: 10/05/2005
Summary: A triumphant return to form.

Set to retire due to a terminal brain tumour, detective Simon Yam knows there's only one way for him and his loyal squad to deal with triad kingpin Sammo Hung and his troops: force on force. But no matter how hard they press - and they press HARD - Sammo presses back harder, and usually after he walks free when it becomes apparent Simon and his boys have violated every police procedure and human right imaginable in an effort to secure an apprehension.

When a mentally deficient A/V geek arrives at the station with a video showing Sammo teeing off on the head of Simon's undercover operative and one of his henchman finalizing the deal with a bullet to the head, Simon and his crew first beat the henchman to within an inch of his life, sending him flying off a high-rise rooftop, and then hatch a plan to edit the tape and make Sammo appear to be the killer. Of course, there's always a backup tape, and the vicious crime kingpin again walks free, this time with a master plan to wipe out Simon's unit for good.

Into this raging carnival of payback is transferred Simon's replacement Donnie, a not-quite-by-the-book hot shot whose initial protestations to the group's dark pragmatism and exclusionary procedures are rescinded after he helplessly watches one of them get slit up a treat by Sammo's snickering, psychotic blade-for-hire Jacky Wu Jing (who's hardly the "newcomer" he's being touted as by both the opening credits and the internet gossip cycle). That these two will later settle up accounts in a ferocious bout of hand-to-hand combat in the alley leading to Sammo's club is a foregone conclusion: that the fight is one of the most beautifully constructed, relentlessly exhilarating setpieces of martial arts choreography in the history of Hong Kong cinema, one that practically INVENTS new ways of kicking ass, comes as a breath of minty freshness in this era of assembly line romances and computer-assisted Jackie Chan in silly helmets.

The sequence is rivalled in short order when Donnie finally takes on the Big Man himself, virtually trashing Sammo's opulent nightclub in the process just moments after Simon's abortive last attempt to kill his archenemy buys him a series of gaping stab wounds and a Great Big Knife through his hand.

But the film isn't just about combat, phenomenal though it is; it's about consequences, and the dark decisions of the soul that, in Hong Kong movies at least, routinely resulted in cataclysm in film after film of the golden era of the 80's and 90's. The kind of movie that used to be worthy of the title Heroic Bloodshed, and a textbook exercise in escalating nihilism. No one escapes fate in SPL, not that they try very hard: combatants on both sides of the battle have tunnel vision and live only to see the other side pushing up the daisies, their own deaths often appearing as surprising to them as they are to us.

SPL feels like the movie its director, Wilson Yip, wanted to make in the mid-1990's, back when folks like Danny Lee knew the value of a hammer and a phone book in extracting confessions, so it doesn't surprise that the film is set in 1997 (a fact seemingly lost on the majority of the audience at the Toronto Film Festival where this debuted): how else to justify the "shoot-first-fuck-the-questions" cocaine bust flashbacked as newly arrived Donnie quietly acquaints himself with the vacant desks of his new charges, or the sight of weary veteran Liu Kai-chi slapping around a mental retardate and trashing the poor boy's pad?

Not that the film is all bleakness. With the exception of Jacky's smirky, nutjob assassin, all the primary leads are given small vignettes that show they're firing on more than one cylinder: Simon becomes godfather to a little girl whose parents, witnesses to Sammo's dirty dealings, were killed by Jacky. Liu Kai-chi discovers the fate of his extranged father just moments before fate points his way; Donnie secretly plays video games with a former car thief brain damaged by a brutal upper cut from his fist; and Sammo interrupts several tense moments AND his climactic Donnie-brook to take calls from his wife, who after several failed pregnancies has finally given him a child, albeit one who will figure prominently in one of the most brutal twist endings of all time. There's more authentic characterization on display here than in any five Hong Kong action thrillers of the past few years (barring the gorgeously grim procedurals of Johnny To) - not for nothing is the film set on Father's Day - a fact not lost on the likes of Yip and Yen, who must have known respective talents such as theirs, coupled with an Asian cinephile's dream cast, could only result in something truly memorable.

With little argument, this is Yip's most refined, tightly-wound effort to date, a lean, dark, unsparing bastard of a movie that melds the satiny lustre of 2002, with which it shares art director Jeff Mak, with the sinewy, stripped-down plotting of BIO-ZOMBIE (minus the comedy, of course). Easily one of the best, if not THE best Hong Kong picture of 2005 so far, and I doubt the rest of the year will produce anything its equal.

Reviewer Score: 10

Reviewed by: abbot
Date: 08/20/2005

Starring Simon Yam, one of the best Hong Kong actor of his generation (the quality of his acting increases year after year), SPL has also the particularity to reunite three generations of martial artists on the same screen : Sammo Hung, Donnie Yen & Wu Jing. But SPL is more than a martial arts movie. It’s very special combination of thriller, drama & action. A powerful and dark thriller.

SPL is probably the most personal Wilson Yip movie with Mongkok Story (1996), Bullets Over Summer (1999) Juliet In Love (2000). Except those three features, the director’s filmography was not really unforgettable. The good news is, SPL is the best Wilson Yip movie, so far. It’s also the movie where you can see Donnie Yen's best performance as an actor, added at his amazing kung-fu skills.

The story is about a police force unit leaded by detective Chan (Simon Yam) who’s trying to catch with difficulty a triad boss, Po (Sammo Hung). When Po’s men murder a witness who was protected by the cops, Chan is wounded and decide to take care of the surviving witness daughter. Several months later, Chan is about to retire, and will be replaced by a new hard-boiled cop, Ma (Donnie Yen), expert in martial arts. Ma is taking the job one week before Chan's retirement, and try to be accepted by the rest of Chan’s crew (played by Liu Kai-chi, Danny Summer & Ken Chang), while Chan is determinate to put Po behind the bars at all cost before he leave, and send a undercover cop (Vincent Sze) to find proofs against him...

Brutal, emotional and visually sophisticated, SPL is one of the best 2005 Hong Kong movies, and prove that Wilson Yip is a better director that we thought. He succeeds to balance perfectly the drama and the action parts, because he’s focusing first on the story and the characters. All the mood of the movie is controled by the emotional side of the events. In SPL, nobody is 100% good or bad. And the way Wilson Yip is making the audience feel close to each character, is related to family (Chan who became the stepfather of the witness dauther, Po’s who just have his first baby etc...) or friendship. The only character that we dont really know the background is Jet (played by Wu Jing), a cold-blooded killer who work for Po. A real kung-fu Terminator with deadly technics (he has a talent to use knifes in a real bloody way).

What’s interessting in SPL is that the excellent fighting scenes (the most brutal and impressive saw on screen since a long time) amazingly directed by Donnie Yen, are not the main attraction of the movie. You can see them like a big and enjoyable bonus, because the characters and the story are already so strong, that the movie is already very good without any action. The soundtrack is also one of the good surprise of the movie (a very good job from Chan Kwang Wing, the music composer of the Infernal Affairs trilogy). Let’s finish with Sammo Hung, and say that it’s a real pleasure to see him back on screen as a villain after so many years. His performance is really terrific. He is the King. He is the Best !