Publicity Stills of "SPL"
(Courtesy from Shaw)

Genre: Crime/Action
Director: Wilson Yip
Starring: Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Simon Yam, Wu Jing
RunTime: 1 hr 37 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: M18 (Violence)

Opening Day: 24 November 2005

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With action scenes directed by Donnie Yen, SPL is a contemporary kung-fu action film that combines high-octane martial-arts with intense, compelling drama. Fresh from his roles in blockbusters Hero and Shanghai Knights, Donnie Yen stars along with martial-arts movie veteran Sammo Hung and the critically acclaimed Simon Yam. SPL also features Wushu champion, Wu Jing.

Movie Review:

SPL or Sha Po Lang in Chinese, each represents the initial of three renegade stars in the Chinese astrology that bring forth either evil or good, depending on how they line up their position in heavens. Blending mystical Chinese astrology into modern day police drama, SPL was used to describe the unavoidable crash between triad leader Po (Sammo Hung) and two police officers, Chan (Simon Yam) and Ma (Donnie Yen).

Police officer Chan and triad leader Po had been at each other’s throat ever since Po send his assassin to murder Chan’s witnesses. Time was however running out for Chan as he discovered that he was terminally ill and would be retiring early. The crux of this movie started on Chan’s last day of work when he discovered evidence that he could used (after some illegally modification) to incriminate Po. Chan’s replacement, officer Ma was not agreeable to Chan’s action and wants to take Po down in a legal way, in order not to taint the reputation of the police force. This setup for a three way crash between Po, Chan and Ma who are all determined in their own perspective and quest.

The action sequences in SPL came in a fast and furious pace that could only be performed by those who spend their lifetime practicing martial art skills. The most impressive sequences would be when Donnie Yen took on Wu Jing in an alley fight. That fight had been choreographed on the spot as the two martial artists used their talent and sparred for real. The other wild primitive fight sequences would be Donnie Yen taking on Sammo Hung, which resembled a panther trying to bring a huge bear down.

However don’t expect this film to be over laden with fights scenes as it’s used sparing to draw out the dramatic tension between the cops and thugs.

Perhaps the biggest weakness in SPL would be the characterization in the three leads. The idea behind the usage of Chinese astrology mythology was good but the presentation behind each main character’s motivation wasn’t strong enough to draw the audience into the character’s emotions. The fault was not on the cast’s acting abilities but more on the editing and overall direction that this film had chosen which weaken the otherwise strong structure for the film.

Acting veterans like Simon Yam was delightful as a cop on a personal vendetta in getting the guilty arrested. Although he doesn’t have the necessary martial art skills as his fellow co-star, his commanding presence, like the one he gave in “PTU” made up for the martial art skills that he was lacking and excel just as much as his co-stars.

The biggest surprise in SPL would be Sammo Hung playing the ruthless triad leader, a change from his usual good guy roles that most viewers are accustom to. While his character is not exactly bad to the bone (evident in his cares for his family), his performance (and his hairdo) marks a striking resemblance of a dangerous wild voracious lion that very few dare to provoke. It’s a refreshing change to see a veteran like Sammo Hung to break out of stereotypes to take on new roles.

Donnie Yen also brings on his high-octane action sequences that were seen in movies such as “Blade 2” and “The Twins Effect 2” by taking on double duties in SPL as the action choreographer and starring role. Although he is not exactly on par with Simon Yen or Sammo Hung in terms of acting, his lighting fast kicks and punches were simply dazzling.

Wu Jing deserved a special mention as Sammo Hung’s maniacal assassin even though he was a special guest star with very limited screen time. Wu Jing’s character was ultimately deranged and enjoyable to watch him go ballistic on his victims. It had been rumored that Wu Jing will have another go at this elusive adept murderer role in a SPL prequel to further explore this mysterious character.

SPL represents one of the better quality exports from the flagging film industry in Hong Kong this year. As the current states of film making in Hong Kong which tone down the violence and other explicit contents in their films to cater to the China market, SPL stands out as it retains the gritty uncompromising elements that many would associate as a true Hong Kong film to be. There was a lot of potential in SPL but it was slightly misdirected and just a few cents short to make this film a truly great Hong Kong film.

Movie Rating:

(One of the best action drama Hong Kong movie this year)

Review by Richard Lim Jr


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