Last year’s festivities with hitman thriller short, Dead End, saw some genuine praise and celebration for film duo Carter Ferguson and actor Bryan Larkin. The two have since sought to continue their endeavors for the action-packed vehicle as par for the course toward a short film trilogy with Dead End II: A Justified Kill, now wrapped and waiting proper audience reception.
The Contractor and Young Gun are back in action in this rousing second chapter, played respectively by Larkin and actor Julian Gaertner from the first installment. The two are on yet another mission to further their discriminate craft of making people disappear, targeting seedy, dirty underworld types… or as the Contractor himself narrates – those “who deserve to die”.
Treading Hong Kong’s subterranean human trafficking circuit, they infiltrate a vast apartment complex to reach their next target, Cheung (Sam Gor), a gangster extorting residents under threat of selling them as sex slaves. It is here that we meet a young girl (Chloe Chan) whose pickpocketing is her best asset for the abusive woman (Wai Shan Chan) she steals cash for.
Before The Contractor and Young Gun can reach Cheung, the plan goes awry as they’re spotted by one of Cheung’s bodyguards, ensuing an chase sequence throughout the daunting and narrow alleyways, corners and corridors of the apartment complex. The Girl soon takes to the chase herself after noticing cash on the floor from Cheung’s rough incoming.
From there, the goals are clear: The Contractor and Young Gun are all about hitting their mark. For the girl, it’s all about ascertaining and acquiring the bag and its contents. Something transformative happens though, as the chase takes a morbid, climatic turn for Cheung as he lies wounded with The Girl soon standing atop with Cheung’s own bloody knife in hand, and making a gruesome decision that could very well change her fate.
This is where the brillance of the story comes into play, applying a twist of deep intrigue that goes hand in hand with much of the existentialism invoked by the Contractor’s own narrations about killing and what it means to dispense justice. Chan delivers a fair performance to that end, fronting the narrative firmly with a character that broadens that scope aptly beyond our protagonists.
Solid and edgy editing and lensing gives Dead End 2: A Justified Kill a level of slickness that ties well in tone to the first while the saga builds forward. Its near non-stop pacing stimulates the viewing experience with an assured attentiveness to characterization and drama, all done very well, and with action that cuts fast, but smart in terms of angling and stuntwork.
It’s here that you can definitely tell that our actors can all move to a certain degree without as many quick cuts as it would take for any scene in a Hollywood movie in a recent memory. Actor Jai Day’s role is small but more supplemental to the benefit of the action as he plays Cheung’s bodyguard, The Russian, opposite Larkin in their reunion since being on set several years ago for Donnie Yen crime opus, Chasing The Dragon.
There’s quite a bit more action this time around courtesy of fight arranger Ferguson, and it gets just as violent with the red stuff in plain sight from time to time. The action is peppered just a little bit more as well with a brief flashback that discretelt ties in The Contractor’s arc as still very much central to the grand scheme of things – His afflictions haven’t at all dissipated since the first shortfilm, which all the more prioritizes the world building value and potential for Dead End, even as more characters are thrown in the mix.
With Dead End 2: A Justified Kill, you get a smart, thrilling and fun palate cleanser from Larkin and his team while they work toward creating something bigger, greater and highly deserving. You’re also drawn into deeper view into the world being fleshed out right before your eyes with an arresting look at humanity, touching upon dichotomical themes like wealth and poverty, freedom and desire, and right and wrong.
For this and all that Dead End 2: A Justified Kill takes aim at, Larkin and Ferguson offer up a continually fresh, compelling and transformative hitman successor that self-nourishes with each installment. With a third now in tow as well as a feature, it’s a sequel justified by its dexterous substance inarguable caliber.