Wednesday, December 14, 2005

SPL: Beware of Bone-crunching action

(crime thriller in Cantonese)
Time: 95 mins
Rating: * * *

Sammo Hung (centre) and his gang in SPL
SPL, or Sha Po Lang, is a violent, no-holds-barred crime melodrama that will leave you exhausted just by watching it. It is a throwback to the good old days of Hong Kong action thrillers like Ringo Lam’s City On Fire and John Woo’s The Killer.

The only difference is that director Wilson Yip now has more sophisticated camera work and effects, and visually realistic fight scenes choreography by co-director Donnie Yen. Yip has also included touches of humour in the sequences that remind us of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies.

Sha, Po and Lang are three Chinese constellations that represent Destruction, Conflict and Greed. These are the qualities that we find in a Hong Kong police task force, led by Inspector Chan (Simon Yam), to investigate gang boss Wang Po (Sammo Hung). The enmity between Chan and Wang goes back a long way when Wang ordered the killing of the parents of Chan’s god-daughter when they were on their way to testify against the crime lord.

Playing foster parent to the girl, Chan is reminded of the murder every day and he vows revenge.
The story opens when Chan is forced into retirement because of health reasons. With only days left before ending his career, the police inspector and his team go all out to nail Wang, even to the extent of breaking the law and misappropriating Wang’s loot.

Things get complicated when Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen) is assigned to take over the task force. Ma is no angel but what he uncovers is shocking, even to him. Chan’s men are so desperate to get Wang that they are even fabricating evidence against him. Normally, the audience would lose sympathy for such morally- decadent characters and easily lose interest in the movie. However, Yip counters this by throwing in subplots about their family life on Father’s Day.

While most people are celebrating with their loved ones, the members of the task force can only suffer pangs of remorse and regret for having neglected their children and family all these years.
Of course, the main attraction of this crime thriller is its brutal fighting sequences that do not rely on wires or computer graphics.

The duels, especially the one between Donnie Yen and former wushu champ Wu Jing (as Wang’s chief thug Jet), are so realistic that we cringe at every blow. Surprisingly, the acting here is also above par, unlike in most Hong Kong actioners that just concentrate on the fighting scenes. Also. SPL succeeds where Daniel Lee’s Dragon Squad fails, although they both had Hung and Yam too. You can bet it is going to start a huge cult following.


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