SPL (Review)

Whatever it means it’s good.

As I was watching SPL I started to wonder if it might justify a “great” rating, then the last 10 minutes convinced me once and for all that it undoubtedly deserved that title.

And as far as SPL goes, it stands for Saat Po Long, but I had no idea what that means, so I imdb’d it. Apparently the literal translation is “Kill the Broken Wolf”, but in the US it was subtitled Kill Zone.

So that clears that up then! (By the way, I think each version of the title sucks, none of them sum up a cool movie.)

SPL is a cops vs robbers tale with some ambiguity thrown in, as the bad guys aren’t all bad, and the good guys aren’t necessarily that good.

But in black and white terms Sammo Hung plays the bad guy Wong Po, and he is the leader of a gang who rules the inner city come nightfall. He is tough, loyal and capable of great brutality. (Sammo is also still a fat guy, if anything he is expanding as he ages.)

The “white hats” are led by Inspector Chan, who leads a special unit focussed solely on bringing down Wong Po and his crew.

Inspector Chan has two reasons for wanting Wong Po gone, firstly Wong Po organised a hit that resulted in both the witness and his wife dead, orphaning their daughter who Chan adopted. Secondly, after a post incident routine medical Chan is told that he has an inoperable brain tumour and only has a short time left.

Given the medical state Chan is told that he is to be replaced, with this reduced time frame and his personal vendetta in mind the crew decides to have one last clean up. This involves a lot of “off the record” activities, many entailing a higher than usual degree of violence and intimidation as the team go all out to ensure Chan can retire and see out his days knowing they achieved something.

Unfortunately despite constant infractions of the law and hard nosed tactics at the conclusion of the sweep they are no closer to securing a conviction for Wong Po or his loyal minions.

The incoming boss Kwun, played by Donnie Yen, is largely kept in the dark at this stage so that the “special methods” aren’t questioned.

On the first guided tour of the new district Kwun and Chan are involved in a tense standoff that only escalates when Wong Po personally becomes involved. No quarter is given in what is essentially a pissing contest designed to let the enemy know exactly who is boss.

Later though the police have a breakthrough, when a socially inept young man brings in a tape that inadvertently shows Wong Po being directly involved in a brutal beating and murder.

As Wong Po clearly did not pull the trigger in the tape, more “special methods” are utilised and Wong Po is immediately arrested and charged with the crime.

Chan and his crew must then work against the clock to clear up all loose ends that might absolve Wong Po of the crime before his 48 hour holding period elapses and he is once again on the streets.

To this point the film is largely a goodies Vs baddies story with slightly blurred boundaries, Wong Po of course is freed from prison after a short time and the cops become marked men. Once Donnie Yen’s character Kwun becomes fully aware of what he is now in the middle of he must choose sides quickly and take the consequences.

The film sets an early tone that tells us this will not have a happy ending, and the good and bad both suffer losses, often in sudden and brutal fashion.

The final showdown is preceded by a frankly awesome fanboy fave knife fight between Donnie Yen and a white-clad assassin. If the film had have ended here I would still have been satisfied, as a “level boss” duel it is truly great.

Except for the fact that after this the moment of truth must come with Donnie and Sammo squaring off. Although Sammo (like Jackie Chan) is now well into his 50s he still has almost all the moves, and I would almost argue that he is aging a little better than Jackie given he has been lugging around a big gut for 4 decades now.

Sammo exhibits real power and quickness that belies his age and yes, girth, and Donnie Yen always comes up with goods when he allowed to. (Damn you Blade 2 for not giving him some scenes!)

Once the smoke clears and the realisation comes on both sides that there are no real winners, the credits roll and the audience can take stock of what they have just witnessed.
Each year a large number of foreign language films are hyped to buggery by a media desperate to be seen as ahead of the curve, examples from the last decade include The Host (overrated but OK), Pan’s Labyrinth (not overrated) and City of God (unless I missed the point extremely overrated!). For some reason as SPL didn’t have an obvious hook or selling point it didn’t come up in many such conversations. That is really a pity, as the main selling point should be that this is a really good film.

No wait, a great one.

Final Rating – 8.5 / 10. Pay attention in the early going, you’ll be rewarded with one of the more kick ass finales in film history, one that almost overshadows a legitimately powerful ending.

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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