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SPL 2: A Time for Consequences


Tony Jaa and Wu Jing trade blows in SPL 2: A Time for Consequences.



Year: 2015  
Director: Soi Cheang Pou-Soi
Producer: Wilson Yip Wai-Shun, Paco Wong

Jill Leung Lai-Yin, Wong Ying


Li Chung-Chi


Tony Jaa, Wu Jing, Zhang Jin, Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Unda Kunteera Yhordchanng, Ken Lo Wai-Kwong, Jun Kung, Babyjohn Choi, Philip Keung Ho-Man, Ai Wai, Dominic Lam Ka-Wah, Candy Yuen Ka-Man, Zhang Chi, Aaron Chow Chi-Kwan, Law Wing-Cheong, Kou Zhan-Wen

The Skinny: Entertaining though ridiculously-plotted sequel-in-name-only to the absurdly popular SPL. The action is bigger and more plentiful, while lacking the spontaneity and power of the first film’s epic beatdowns. Still better than other action films being made right now, which must count for something, right? Not featuring Donnie Yen.
by Kozo:

Has it really been a decade since Wilson Yip’s SPL? And were all those years so lacking in good martial arts movies that they needed to springboard a sequel-in-name-only off such an old, albeit popular property? I guess so, because director Soi Cheang’s SPL 2: A Time for Conseqeuences arrives ten years too late, splashing noisily onto movie screens via a fairly large marketing push while promising the same mixture of gritty crime characters, hyperspeed martial arts and soulful pontificating on what it means to be a star in the firmament. Or something. In case you forgot, the title SPL is an acronym for “Sha Po Lang”, which denotes three celestial stars represented onscreen by three key characters. Donnie Yen, Simon Yam and Sammo Hung played those characters in the original film, and each possessed varying shades of grey instead of the common black-and-white dichotomy that powers so many action movies. The same thematic formula drives the three-to-five main characters of SPL 2, who are part good and part bad – and the balance between the two determines just how likeable they are. Hey, just like the people that you meet in real life!

SPL 2 stars Wu Jing as Chan Chi-Kit, an undercover cop whose drug addiction and residence in a Thai prison make him an unhappy camper. Kit’s incarceration is at first unexplained, but through flashbacks we learn that he was sent up the river by floppy-haired businessman Hung Man-Kong (Louis Koo), who runs the human trafficking ring that Kit and his cop uncle Chan Kwok-Wah (Simon Yam) are investigating. While Wah tries to help out Kit, Kong plots to screw over his own brother (Jun Kung), who’s got something that he wants. A lot. Back in the Thai prison, guard Chai (Tony “Elbows of Doom” Jaa) occasionally fights with Kit, and in his downtime worries about his daughter Sa (Unda Kunteera Yhordchanng), who needs a bone marrow transplant and has a rare Bombay phenotype, meaning only one in a million people can be her donor. Kit happens to be one of those people, but Sa can’t contact him and Chai has no idea that the guy he occasionally brutalizes at his day job may be the key to saving his daughter’s life. Oh the irony or coincidence or serendipity!

Unlike the edgy but generic storyline of SPL, the sequel’s script goes for a sprawling narrative that spans two countries and focuses on nearly a dozen characters, all tied together by fate or some other metaphysical plot device. Add to that lyrical montages and some cute details (Text messages with emojis!) and you have a mixture that leans towards preposterous and cheesy. Still, there’s surprise in Soi Cheang’s choices, and the odd detours make SPL 2 a more interesting and ambitious film than its predecessor. Also, giving Tony Jaa’s character a daughter manages to humanize the usually unimpressive actor in ways that lost elephants and stolen statue heads have not. SPL 2 isn’t an actor showcase –performances are fine, outside of Wu Jing’s overacting and Louis Koo’s too-dour emoting – but there’s a standout in Zhang Jin, who serves as the prison’s warden and also Kong’s top henchman. With his dapper presence and silent menace, Zhang makes a fine villain, and steals most of his scenes without doing all that much. He barely qualifies as the film’s fourth or fifth lead, but he’s possibly the most memorable.

SPL 2 also gets sillier than the original. One extended action scene involves Kit running all over the prison during a riot, desperately trying to find a mobile phone signal while Chai chases him and the Warden beats up people on the side. The sequence (which could double as an advertisement for a mobile service provider) plays out in an apparently seamless tracking shot, and while it’s obviously been assisted in post-production, there’s great fun in the over-the-top style. Action direction from Li Chung-Chi is top-notch, with plenty of glass-breaking impact and varied set pieces to change up the pace. A shootout in the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal features gunplay while an attack set in a narrow flight of stairs is quick and efficient. There’s also a sequence that recalls the penultimate fight between Donnie Yen and Wu Jing in the original SPL, only this time with Wu facing off against a knife-wielding assassin (Zhang Chi) in a prelude to the climactic fight. The scene even reuses a memorable music cue from the first film – a stirring moment if you happen to remember Chan Kwong-Wing’s original SPL score.

However, the climactic action sequences suffer in comparison to the original SPL. Whereas Donnie Yen and Wu Jing’s alleyway duel felt spontaneous and astonishing, Wu Jing and Zhang Chi’s fight is less dynamic and impactful. Also, the end fight, which features Chai and Kit taking on the Warden and a bunch of North Koreans in a high-rise building, is bigger and lengthier than the Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung grapple fest from the original, but is marred by frequent cutaways to extraneous action involving either Sa wandering Bangkok or a couple of hospitalized guys slap-fighting from their gurneys. The slap fight eventually spills to the floor and some blood is drawn, but on the whole it’s a distraction from Wu Jing, Tony Jaa and Zhang Jin kicking ass. One thing that made the first SPL a standout was that its action was hard, exhilarating and focused, and it made its mark without resorting to stylized montage. SPL 2 tries to extract emotion from its action sequences through editing and cross-cutting and the diffused action feels slightly anti-SPL, for lack of a better term.

The caveat to my grousing is that I’m comparing SPL 2 to a movie that some consider a modern classic. I don’t fully agree with that, but SPL is still a great genre film and despite its larger canvas and expanded action, the sequel has difficulty matching up. Also, SPL 2 lacks the star power of DONNNNIEEEEEEE, whose presence and attitude are hard to replicate without looking like a poser (even Yen barely gets away with it). And as long as I’m picking nits, the film features a translation app that allows Kit and Chai to communicate by handing a smartphone back and forth and letting a SIRI-wannabe do the talking. That plot device is laughable and contributes to SPL 2 being an uneven and ridiculous experience. However, as current genre films go, SPL 2 is a strong cut above, just like SPL was superior to its 2005 contemporaries. If that was the original film’s legacy – that it was better than whatever was being called an action movie at the time – then SPL 2 is a worthy follow-up. Make it happen, people: Donnie Yen vs. Tony Jaa for SPL 3. (Kozo, 8/2015)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
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