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The Film
SPL

Its Origin
Hong Kong

Running Time
93 mins

Genre(s)
Martial Arts

Director(s)
Wilson Yip

Stars
Donnie Yen
Sammo Hung
Simon Yam

DVD Distributor
Deltamac

DVD Origin
Hong Kong

Region Code
All

DVD Format
NTSC

Audio Tracks
Cantonese DD 5.1 EX
Cantonese DTS 5.1 ES
Mandarin DD 5.1 EX


Subtitles
Chinese, English

Screen Format
Anamorphic Widescreen

Special Info
2 disc set with outer slipcase.

Film rating:

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SPL


Film Review

At the time of writing, I'm not that long back from a lenghty period travelling abroad. During this time abroad I did not keep up to date with the progress and new films in Asian cinema. So it was not that long after I came back that I asked on the Bullets N Babes DVD forum for recommendations on good, recent Hong Kong action films. I was aware that in recent years there has been a marked decline in the quality of action films, martial arts in particular, coming out of Hong Kong, but I had hoped that during my time travelling steps had been made to correct the ailment, especially since Thailand is becoming the main place for martial arts film now since the arrival of Tony Ja. It was then that I was recommended SPL as one of the better martials arts efforts from Hong Kong in the past while.

On the surface I figured SPL should live up to expectations as the cast list certainly looked impressive. Donnie Yen has failed to impress me in the majority of his films that I've seen, but from the likes of Hero (2002), Once Upon A Time In China II and Wing Chun I know what he is capable of, and starring along side Sammo Hung I greatly hoped that he was due another good performance. Also at the top of the cast list is the every reliable Simon Yam. On paper it really does appear that SPL should be a decent film.

Sammo Hung plays the crime lord Wong Po, a triad leader that Yam and his men have been trying to put in jail for years. Their best hope for sending him to jail was a witness that was going to testify against him three years prior to the present, but Po managed to intervene and had the witness assasinated. In the present time, his team are still trying to nail Po for something and are willing to go to any lengths to achieve their goal. Yam, however, is on the eve of his retirement with Yen due to come in as the new boss, and it is on that night that everything comes to head leading to a final confrontation between them all.

I'll be honest and admit that I chose to watch this film purely for the action. I was in a no-brainer sort of mood, looking for some unaldulterated, gratuitous violence that good old fashioned brutal action can satisfy. On that respect, I was only marginally satisfied. The reason being that SPL is not the out-and-out martials arts film that I was hoping for. This is a crime thriller with martial arts in it, therefore the fighting isn't the sole focus. But what there is, is good. There are three main fighters in the film, the first two being the obvious - Hung and Yen - but there is a third who is possibly one of the main people to watch and that is Jacky Wu (Tai Chi Boxer). He plays a cool assasin working for Wong Po and is responsible for the majority of deaths that you see on screen. His fights are also the more entertaining to watch. He's fast and fluid with hismoves and performs many acrobatic, aesthetically impressive kicks and strikes that left me with a giddy grin as they reminded me of the reasons I love good martial arts films so much. Unfortunately those moments were too few and far between to make SPL the memorable film I was hoping for. Donnie Yen, I am pleased to say, is also impressive on the whole but the main criticism I have for his fights is something that plagues most of his work that I've seen. Yen is an incredible athlete, of that there is no doubt, and his ability is also undeniable, but when he performs his fights in front of the camera he seems to have an uncontrollable urge to crank up the playback speed to make everything faster than it really is. He obviously thinks this makes it look better, but for me it doesn't. It becomes obvious that what we are seeing isn't really what they are doing, and is as out of place (when used excessively) as Jet Li's bewildering anti-gravity ability in Romeo Must Die. While Jacky Wu was the surprise package that made the film more entertaining, the main anticipation was for any fights between Yen and Hung. They are they martial arts superstars, and it is them that we want to see fight. For this, we are made to wait until near the end of the film. Hung still he can hold his own in fights, despite looking a lot older these days. Their fight, while entertaining, didn't quite satisfying my craving as there wasn't as much of the standing and fighting that I like. A lot of the moves were very contemporary, incorporating some wrestling style throws which Yen seems to like, and quite a bit of groundwork fighting as well. While not great, the fighting in SPL is still good.

That just leaves the crime thriller side of things, and that by far is where SPL places itself on the shelves of the mediocre. Everything about it is cliched, standard cops and gangs stuff. The cops want the gang boss in jail, he eludes them for so long that they start to bend the law to get what they want, and in the end break it. Good intentions lead to desperation, and everything is so predictable about it that I found myself tempted to hit the fast-forward button when between fights. EVeryone's acting is so-so, but nothing more can really be expected when the actors have all been given such typical, stereotyped characters. Hung's character is maybe given a bit more depth than the others as as well as his triad boss side, we see his fatherly and husband side. This small amount of character development isn't enough, however, to raise any element of the plot threads above typical average fare.

Overall I was disappointed with SPL as on paper it promised so much. The action was entertaining in places, delivering brutality and quite a few good moves, but there just wasn't enough of it to make this a memorable martial arts film, but the story dragged the film down a few levels. Due to this, I can't recommend SPL to people, except that it probably is one of the better martial arts films to come out of Hong Kong in the past while, which is as depressing a statement as you can really get, thinking about where Hong Kong used to be.

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All review content copyrighted © (2003-2009) Kris Wojciechowski

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