REVIEW: ‘SPL 2: A Time for Consequences’ / ‘Kill Zone 2’ (2016)

SPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES / KILL ZONE 2

SPL 2

SPL 2 : A Time for Consequences is a certain kind of brilliant.  (I worded that sentence very carefully.)  Released internationally in 2015 and in the US this year under the painfully generic title ‘Kill Zone 2,’ Soi Cheang’s new film is a perfect example of its type. Now, if you generally have trouble seeing the brilliance of Hong Kong martial arts flicks, you may be looking at them the wrong way.  Once Upon a Time in China, The Legend of Drunken Master, Police Story 3: Supercop, Hard-Boiled, etc…  Complaints against certain of these actioners include ‘The fighting looks so unrealistic,’ ‘They’re completely ignoring the laws of physics!’ and ‘ZOMFG you can totally tell they used wires.’  I have personally witnessed variations on all of these bellyaches.  You could level them all against SPL 2.  My rebuttal: ‘So what?’

It’s helpful to think of these types of films not as Western-style action movies, but as musicals.  Seriously.  In a musical, characters go about their business, behaving in relatively naturalistic ways (or the heightened naturalism we basically expect from movie characters), and then suddenly break into song and dance.  Would you really go into a Vincente Minnelli Joint and say, ‘Ugh!  This random group of strangers suddenly turning into a well-choreographed flash mob on the street is so unrealistic!  And where’s the music COMING FROM??’  I hope not.  And in some musicals, the plot and characters are thin and lame because the point is the music.  Who watches West Side Story for an insightful social commentary on teenage love?  Rex Reed, maybe.

SPL 2

A cut above

The plot and characters in SPL 2, however, are anything but thin.  Even without the balletic fight choreography, we’d still have an interesting storyline I could describe as ‘John Woo’s Dirty Pretty Things.’  The film follows Kit (Wu Jing), an undercover cop investigating an organised crime gang.  They seem to be kidnapping people and shipping them to a squalid prison in Thailand in order to harvest their organs.  One of the guards at this prison, Chatchai (Tony Jaa, of Ong Bak and Furious 7 fame), has a daughter with leukaemia, and could sure use the bone marrow of an inmate to help her.  The mastermind of the criminal kidnappers, Mr Hung (Louis Koo, who looks like an animated character from Tetsurō Araki), has a fatal heart condition, and is trying to steal his brother’s heart for a transplant.

These characters intersect in ways that are too convoluted to shortly summarise.  As with most films of this type, the plot conveys the action, and the film ends very abruptly once the fighting stops.  But the fighting does involve some jaw dropping action set pieces.  A brutal shoot-out at an airport, a chaotic prison riot, and a final showdown at a Thai medical centre are among the best action scenes I’ve seen all year.  (I will concede, it’s only July.)  Sure, the fight scenes on display here are ‘unrealistic,’ but they aren’t haphazardly spliced together from disparate ‘one-thing-at-a-time’ shots.  They are purposefully framed, edited for maximum impact, and quite obviously choreographed, as dances in a (good) musical are.  This has the effect of elevating them to a beautiful abstractness—think of the barbarous violence in Dredd as seen through the characters on Slo-Mo.

Make no mistake: SPL 2 is a violent film.  We see plenty of injury detail of punches, knife slices, and bullet entries it earns its R/15 rating.  But if you can stomach it, you’ll see one of the better action imports of the year.

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