After failing to protect a witness and his family from retribution by ruthless Triad leader Wong Po (Hung,) Inspector Chan (Yam) discovers that he has cancer. Vowing to take down Po no matter what, and seemingly now with nothing to lose, Chan gets a team of like minded officers and begins to resort to illegal means. Hoping to keep things orderly, Chan is assigned a new boss, Inspector Ma (Yen) who has a serious reputation and is more than capable in a fist fight.
It’s difficult to believe that SPL was released 15 years ago at the time of this review. I remember the anticipation I had when the first trailer was released and the prospect of a Sammo vs. Donnie matchup with Yen choreographing. What I wasn’t prepared for was the grey shades of right and wrong morality tale and revenge story that carry the film tonally to the upper lists of HK crime thrillers.
Director Wilson Ip helms an almost reverent actioner that uses so much of what I miss about HK action film. From the use of dynamic camerawork, kinetic action, and that oh so nice bit of melodrama, SPL may very well be the last real film that encapsulates the sadly gone but still overly referenced Hong Kong aesthetic. Coupling it with Yen’s action choreography, which sees it’s modern defining features begin to truly take shape in this film, SPL is an action fan’s dream.
Yam absolutely kills it as the nothing to lose Inspector Chan; he’s ruthless, driven, but still somehow sympathetic despite all the horrible things he does. Sammo hides quiet ferocity as Wong Po; his moments when he lets his anger and violence take over are super fun and more than a little intimidating. No stranger to villainous roles in his career, Sammo perhaps takes on his most defining baddie role here. Wu Jing, a talented martial artist but woefully under-appreciated at this time, would see a career renaissance thanks to this picture and is now one of China’s biggest stars ever. And what already hasn’t been said of Yen in this role; his Inspector Ma is now legendary for his full on badassness and a pair of now timeless fight scenes in an industry renowned for them.
Ultimately, SPL isn’t a film that doesn’t do anything new but what it does, it does oh so well. It’s a tightly paced actioner that satisfies in nearly everything it does. Solid filmmaking and one hell of an enjoyable rewatch, I miss this type of filmmaking from HK more than I could possibly put into words.
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