I watched this film with two different minds. It was a Jekyll/Hyde experience. One, incidentally, that the film itself captures in one of my favorite scenes. It is between the two principal characters on which the onion layered narrative hinges it’s caboose, and it happens in a dark, claustrophobic location; a prison cell. Tony Jaa’s character Chatchai (featuring prominently in the film, …sometimes), and Wu Jing’s character Chan Chi-Kit are having a lost in translation moment during which Jaa is attempting to convey some decidedly important information to Jing. Only, the two men speak different languages (Chitchai speaks Thai, Chi-Kit speaks Cantonese) and are forced to improvise with the use of a cellphone translator.
Forgive me, dear readership. I write the following with a heavy hand. For it is with great displeasure that I must present to you a TO THE HASHI on a Tony Jaa movie. For many years I have been a fan of Tony Jaa, who, since we’re being honest, I have at various points (hereafter low moments of my life, like a longshoreman suddenly waterboarded with PTSD flashbacks) referred to as “The Jaa” or “The Truth”, back then, it bears mention, when not privy to the “truth” such a promising talent would foretell. This movie, I mean, the one I’m here to talk about, it is a vortex all its own, this film, cast in a void between two impossible questions that cannot even be named. But I’ll try. Question 1: Should I drink my own urine as a source of protein? Question 2: Should I drink cat urine instead as a source of protein?
The script tells a rather cynical story about a smuggling cartel running a black market organ trade, an undercover cop (Chan Chi-Kit) caught in the mix, a corrupt prison warden (Zhang Jin) in on the rink, and the drama of a prison guard (Jaa) remaining quiet about the whole thing due to caring for his own organ-needing daughter taking precedent over justice. Morality is for sale in this film’s ethos, so are physiques, and the silver lining is, well, action. But somehow both too much and not enough.
There are many picturesque moments in the film, like a dry run for accolades in photography. Or maybe this is more about the ethos, a statement that even in the grime of life there is some beauty to be found. Some reason.
You wonder about those reasons in the film’s opening sequence. You wonder about things sacred and, at once, if there are any. The narrative offers us a pregnant woman caught in the organ rink, and we watch as henchmen struggle with the firm order to still kill her and take her heart. They lose this fight with themselves, and immediately you know that you’re in for a movie that will apologize for nothing. It will not hold your hand and coddle you. And it might just slap you around a little, for yucks and giggles.
Tony Jaa plays Thailand’s own version of John Q. Only, this time he is a martial artist that fights …sometimes. It seems they were going so hard for drama that they couldn’t help but vignette a series of other, better movies.
It would seem mean to describe the movie as confused, but one is alas beholden to the truth.
I was surprised to visit Rotten Tomatoes to find so much overwhelming critical praise of the film, and yet so many of the reviews rang with the jingle of an apology. Cary Darling called it “ballet of brutality that makes up in murderous choreography what it lacks in narrative cohesion”. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of A.V. Club said the film was ‘convoluted”, in a nice way as if Stockholmed by the irony. Elizabeth Kerr at The Hollywood Reporter also called it ‘convoluted”, returning to the word’s original meaning, and admitted that, let’s face it, in a film like this the story is secondary to the action. She then proceeds to lie about said action, suggesting that it is nonstop and balls out for most of the film. It isn’t.
I disagree. The fight coordination triumvirate (action director Chung Chi Li, coordinators Ken Lo and Jack Wai-Leung Wong) manage to push the frenetic envelop from one fight to the next.
The director saw the end of The Protector 2 and said, presumably, “I wonder how I can make an even more ridiculous stunt for the climax. I know! Make it a cartoon!” .
Admittedly, the bizarre mix of gritty realism and vestiges of wuxia is borderline off-putting at times, inspiring a chuckle at key moments when dramatic gravitas were preferable. But the ambition is noted, the scenes that work best are worth watching again and again, and boy is it great to watch a villain slap away several of Jaa’s most iconic moves.
I havent seen the first Kill Zone, so I pretend the title of this one is a reference to my viewing experience, or a threat of the filmmakers; “we intend to kill you for watching this movie. Twice.”
Well. Hyde, in the experience and experiment of a review, was my own man running away in fear. He is what happens when your attention span fails the subject. Jekyll, conversely, is the journey to redemption. Director Pou-Soi Cheang is this movie’s Dr Frankenstein. And make no mistake, Kill Zone 2 is a monster of a movie.
Written by Khalil Barnett
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.