Movie Review: SPL: Sha Po Lang (Kill Zone)

Posted: February 10, 2010 in Movie Review, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

SPL/Kill Zone (2005, ABBA Movie Company, Dir. Wilson Yip)

I don’t have anything funny to say about this shot.

I’m giving both titles of this movie because the DVD I intend to review is actually the second one. Besides the title, as far as I can tell nothing has been changed between the two movies. To a certain extent, you can understand the change of the title. The name, Sha Po Lang, is from three stars in Chinese Zodiac and is a little too esoteric for most westerners and more than a few Chinese didn’t get it from what I’ve been told. You could explain it, but you’d have to explain it after they got interested so you need a name change. Kill Zone isn’t the best title, sounds a little too mid-90s direct to video for me. You expect Dolph Lundgren or Steven Seagal with a title like that. However, the movie takes place in 1997, so maybe it works. Or am I being too meta again?

I suddenly have an urge to buy Phillips electronic equipment for some reason.

Let’s get away from the obscure or silly title for a moment though and talk about the movie itself. Does the movie work? Is it entertaining? Do you want to watch some of the fight scenes over and over just to bask in their total awesomeness? Actually, yeah actually. It’s not perfect, but as far as a good Kung-Fu Cop & Robbers movie without pretty boy pop idols or featured songs go, it works. Not only that, but there is actually a pretty interesting story to go along with it too, which is always nice.

Yes, I am interested in lowering my long distance bill!

It’s a cop story, which takes place just as the cusp of the take over of Hong Kong in 1997 by the Chinese Government. Since there are British Colonial flags seen in the movie, I have to assume it’s just before the take over. There seems to be some of the same feelings that are included in some of the dramas and action movies of that time, the feeling that a lot of people are leaving, that a lot of things are changing, and that nothings going to ever be the same. I’d never quite understood if this was just how Hong Kong movies rolled or if it was really about the fact that the English were about to hand the place over to the Chinese, but a lot of early to mid 90s Hong Kong films were heavily into the idea of change.

Hey, are we in this movie too? It’s just we’re barely mentioned in the review. I mean we’re some pretty well fleshed out characters and stuff, just to be ignored like that.

While most of the serious action in the movie takes place on the day before Father’s Day and the day itself, most the story is the set up of that action before it happens. A lot of those set ups take place in a series of flashbacks. In fact, if you watch carefully, the entire movie is made as one big flashback. Or at least it could be interpreted that way, if you connect the very first scene and the very last scene. It is basically about a cop and his team trying to take down a triad boss, but there are a lot of complications along the way.

I’m a thug in a suit, I learned the method from the Americans.

The chief cop, played by Simon Yam, has a brain tumor and is thus about to be retired. He’s trying his best to finish Wong Po (Samo Hung’s character) in the time he has, which makes his morals take kind of a back seat. He and his team resort to murder and tampering with evidence and intimidating witnesses to assure that the crime boss, played by Samo Hung, gets arrested. Meanwhile Donnie Yen comes in to take over the team and is witness to the lengths Yam and his team are willing to take to in order to take Hung’s character down. Yen doesn’t like it much and they start butting heads with each other before they get all start to work together.

In Hong Kong, insurance premiums are so high that minor traffic accidents get really nasty!

That’s the one paragraph version of the movie, but there is actually a lot more to it than that. I mean I didn’t even mention Jing Wu’s hit man dressed in white with the wonderfully bad dye job. Nor did I bring up Samo Hung’s main story in this movie about his wife trying to give birth. Just about everyone in this movie has a real story, and they really follow through each person’s story. It’s a nice change since a lot of Hong Kong movies have forgotten the whole character and story thing over the years.

I’m afraid you have terminal, not in this movie very much disorder dear.

That the movie crams so much into 93 minutes is fairly impressive. It becomes even more so when you start to take into account the fights involved. These are some good fights and to a certain extent, you don’t see these kinds of fights anymore. The best one is between Donnie Yen and Jing Wu in the alley before Donnie goes to fight Samo Hung. I don’t think a picture would quite do it, so I decided to hunt down the bit on YouTube so you could see it…

Impressive, no? That’s not the only good fight we get here as most the fights in this movie are good.

If this movie takes place in 1997, why am I dressed like I come from 1983?

I like the story, which gets dark and interesting, but the real draw to this movie are these fights. Particularly the fight I linked there, which is like something out of one of the Jason Bourne movies only without the shaky-cam effect and a bit of stylization just because they can. Fights are handled in a much different way in Asia than they are here. What we find frenetic they find muddled and confused. Consider also that usually you move the camera around and have lots of cuts to cover up that your actor can’t actually do the fights, which the actors in these countries take a lot of pride in being able to do.


The whole movie is really something of a breath of fresh air for anyone who liked Hong Kong action movies and has watched the action genre particularly do a slide towards inequity the last five or ten years. It’s sort of the antithesis of what HK action has become. There are no pop stars, no pretty girls being shown off, no music deals, and I doubt that this was focus grouped to within an inch of its life.

I’m on the left side of the screen, this denotes something symbolic.

The DVD from Dragon Dynasty actually is really good too. I know that the Weinsteins got a bad name over the years for how Asian movies were treated, but they really seem to be trying to make up for it with their Dragon Dynasty line. The only movie I know of from this group that was altered was Tom Yum Goong, and they put the uncut original film on the second disc of the DVD presentation. A few of the movies the Weinsteins had brought to America before are still presented in their cut versions, but most the new ones are presented in their original forms.

I’m on the right side of the screen. This denotes that I am not only symbolic, but at odds with you.

The first disc has a few features, but the main one is Bey Logan doing an audio commentary. He does some good commentaries with a lot of information, but sometimes they feel a little light on info about the actual movie you’re watching. He’s got a lot of info about the cast and crew as far as their former works go, but information about the movie that’s being watched tends of be a little more emotion then academy. That’s not to say their bad, that’s to say that I wish I’d gotten a little more information about the movie itself. I attribute some of my disappointment to the fact that I’m used to Criterion Collection DVDs where they get some professor to talk about a 40 year old movie that he’s been studying for 25 years solid. The second disc is made up mainly of interviews that I must admit I haven’t watched yet.

You know guys, I’m starting to think they just don’t know how to center a shot. I’m not sure there is anything symbolic here at all.

All in all though, I can highly recommend this movie to any slightly interested party. The Region 1 disc is actually a little bit better for me than the other disc because the English subtitles don’t zip by so fast, a problem I’ve had with HK imports, and the features are a little more English Speaker centric. The only problem with showing this to a friend who you’d like to get interested in HK action is that after this one, it would be hard to come up with a suitable follow up.

Official Score:
41 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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