Tony Jaa gets a chance to show off his softer side, in a film where he also kicks people through walls
“Take this money. Take your daughter away. I never should have gotten you this job.”
The only film I could see at the 0th London East Asian Film Festival is Cheang Pou-soi’s SPL II: A Time for Consequences. It’s a title-only sequel, which is good because I’d not seen the first one when this one was released, and while the first one did have Sammo Hung, this one has the ever-prolific and always great Simon Yam.
The film centres around Chatchai (Tony Jaa), a prison guard in Thailand whose daughter (Unda Kunteera Yhordchanng) has leukaemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. However, the only donor they have found who is a match is undercover Hong Kong cop Kit (Wu Jing), who was working to bust a kidnapping organ-donor ring, led by Mr Hung (Louis Koo) – a ruthless man with a failing heart who wants his brother to donate his to him. When Kit is captured and placed into Chatchai’s prison, watched over by the cold Ko Chun (Zhang Jin), his supervisor and uncle Wah (Simon Yam) works to get him out.
As you can see, there are a lot of plot threads going on at once, but once you get past the initial confusion, they begin to tie together quite well. Despite the screenplay being credited to Jill Leung, there appears be a lack of female characters here, with the majority of women playing nurses or family members, so the diversity is definitely lacking. The male cast members certainly pull their weight, but when you pull yourself back from the spectacle, their actual characterisations are a bit flat. Zhang Jin sure plays a mean warden, but his role like all of the others here, is almost a parody of other similar characters. Think Jim Caviezel in Escape Plan, but with a tonne more kung fu.
With that in mind, it’s hard to fault the actors. It’s great to see Tony Jaa flex his acting chops, and he plays the downtrodden and caring father incredibly well. Wu Jing’s undercover cop takes a little getting used to, but it’s his relationship with Simon Yam’s character that makes his story worth watching. Everyone has something big and important to lose here, even the villains, and everyone does a great job of bringing that desperation to the screen. SPL stands for Sha Po Lang, three stars from Chinese Astrology have that the capability to do good or evil, and this theme is present throughout, shown in what each character has to do to get out of his current situation.
Chung Chi Li, known for Rush Hour and the wonderful Gen-X Cops 2, is in charge of the action direction, and his 30-year experience in the field is very evident, with the choreography smooth and practically flawless. Tony Jaa is famous for his brutal, realistic fight scenes and SPL II offers him some of that, but is rather more focused on being a bit more out there and cartoonish. Here, people can be easily thrown through walls and there’s a rather fantastic sequence when evil warden Chun is swung towards a wall, but curls up and avoids it just in time. Not to say that it’s so ridiculous that it fails to be powerful. There are easily a half dozen sequences here where you find yourself feeling every punch.
Surprisingly, this is one of the film’s biggest strengths. The fight sequences are as melodramatic and over the top as the rest of the film. The plot moves along in a strange soap opera fashion, but nothing ever feels too convoluted or contrived. It might be a hell of a coincidence that the only bone marrow donor with a match happens to be the undercover cop in Chatchai’s prison, but once all of that’s been established, the pieces come together pretty nicely and surprisingly naturally. The film could certainly work without the bone marrow side story, but it would feel less connected, and more a random series of ass-kickings with a semblance of story behind it.
SPL II delivers on two fronts: action and melodrama. While it can take a while for the story to properly assert itself, you’re already hooked on the incredible action sequences. What results is a strangely satisfying mix of both worlds. Oh yeah, and there’s this thing with a wolf I didn’t quite understand. Let’s ignore that.
Verdict: While I can’t be sure of what the titular consequences were supposed to be, SPL 2 is a brutal, nail-biter with hefty amounts of heart to boot
SPL II: A Time for Consequences (2015)
Also known as: 杀破狼2
Director: Cheang Pou-soi
Writer: Jill Leung, Huang Ying
Tony Jaa – Chatchai
Wu Jing – Kit
Simon Yam – Wah
Zhang Jin – Ko Chun
Louis Koo – Mr Hung
Ken Lo – Wong Kwong
Jun Kung – Hun Mun-biu
Dominic Lam – Cheung Chun-tung
Unda Kunteera Yhordchanng – Chatchai’s daughter