Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review: SPL 2: A Time for Consequences

  • Directed by Cheang Pou-soi
  • Starring Tony Jaa, Wu Jing, Simon Yam, Zhang Jin, Louis Koo
  • Released in Thai cinemas on September 19, 2015; rated 15+
  • Wise Kwai's rating: 3/5

You know SPL 2: A Time for Consequences is going to be a different kind of Tony Jaa movie when the stern Thai martial-arts star is introduced wearing ice skates, and he promptly falls on his ass.

Indeed, the reinvention of Jaa's career, post-Sahamongkol, continues apace with SPL 2, Jaa's first, and much-anticipated, foray into Hong Kong action films.

In a supporting role alongside a cast of Hong Kong and Chinese stars, here's a Jaa who takes a page from Jackie Chan's playbook, playing the nice guy. He's immediately a sympathetic character, taking his young daughter to a Bangkok ice rink. After he falls down and is helpfully brought a comical penguin-shaped skating aid to stay upright, his character Chatchai's cute little girl turns around and has blood streaming from her nose. She is, of course, very ill, and in need of a rare type of bone marrow.

The only match, according to the movie medical database, is a Hong Kong police officer named Kit. And because this is a Hong Kong movie, a crazily elaborate plot must be constructed to put Kit and Chatchai on a collision course.

Kit has gone deep undercover in an operation to bring down Hung, a notorious trafficker in human organs who, perhaps not ironically, needs an organ transplant himself. Louis Koo milks his credit as "guest star" for all its worth, brandishing an evil cane and wearing a surgical mask as he orders his minions to do his bidding. On the verge of death, the Hong Kong kingpin is preparing to head to Thailand for an operation that will swap out his heart for the ticker of his own brother.

In Thailand, the Hung operation is overseen by a perfectly coiffed, three-piece-suited prison warden (Zhang Jin). He has an entire secret wing of his prison, where he keeps the victims of human trafficking under lock and key until their organs are needed on the black market. That seems to be a constant with foreign co-productions made in Thailand – there's often some angle involving organ trafficking or people smuggling.

Anyway, it's that very prison where Jaa's Chatchai works. To earn more money for his daughter's hospitalization, he agrees to get on the payroll of the corrupt warden, which sets him up for the meeting with Kit.

SPL 2 is a sequel-in-name-only to a terrific 2005 crime thriller that had Donnie Yen as a tough cop throwing down against the formidable Sammo Hung. The SPL sequel has been in development ever since then, and what has finally emerged is a completely different story. There's no Donnie or Sammo, but Wu Jing was in the first one, in a memorable supporting role as a blade-wielding thug, as was Simon Yam, as the head of the undercover police squad. Yam is back as a senior cop, but it's different character, overseeing the operation that sent Kit down the rabbit hole.

After a bit of running around in Hong Kong, and a big shoot-out at a cruise-ship terminal, the action shifts to Thailand, where Wu Jing ends up in prison, face to face with the guard who wants his bone marrow. Only Chatchai doesn't know that Kit is the potential donor. So a lot of time is eaten up getting the two to realize they have a much deeper connection than they ever imagined.

In the Thai-dubbed version screening in Bangkok, there was an added layer of unintended hilarity as Chatchai, in a prison cell with the bone-marrow donor he's seeking, uses an app on his phone to translate between Thai and Cantonese, to get Wu Jing's character to call the guy Chatchai thinks is still in Hong Kong. Because it's dubbed, even the Cantonese parts are in Thai, so all the lines are spoken the same twice. Hey, the audience needed a good laugh about then.

SPL 2 fares better when there's no CGI wolves or bits of bone marrow to clutter things up, because that's when the action takes place.

Aside from the Hong Kong shootout, there's a great scene in a doctor's office where cops have Hung's injured brother on lockdown. Here, a blade-wielding thug (Zhang Chi) is introduced to great effect.

Back in Thailand, there's a prison riot, giving the evil warden a chance to show off his martial-arts prowess.

Later, Yam's character is trussed up and taken to a scuzzy warehouse where bodies are hacked up. People in various states of disrepair are hanging around, as if they sold off a limb to be able to survive one more day.

In a scene that might have made his late mentor Panna Rittikrai proud, Jaa uses a prison bus to smash the place, and he acquires chains that he wraps around his arms, to add even more heft to his Muay Thai punches.

The big climactic setpiece takes place in a ritzy five-star resort hospital where Hung is to have his operation. Here's where the blade-wielding dude from Hong Kong comes back and joins in the mayhem along with the fierce warden. Wu Jing does his kung fu thing, with lightning-fast punches and sweeping kicks, while Jaa flies back and forth, all knees and elbows, as if he's being shot out of a cannon.

SPL 2 is the third in a trio of Tony Jaa movies this year, following his separation from the Thai studio Sahamongkol, where he made Ong-Bak and Tom-Yum-Goong. First was his big Hollywood debut in Fast and Furious 7, which featured him in short but crucial scenes with Paul Walker. Next to be released was the local co-production Skin Trade, which had Jaa in a leading role alongside action star Dolph Lundgren, as two rogue cops facing off a human-smuggling mobster played by Ron Perlman.

And though I enjoyed Furious 7 and Skin TradeSPL 2 is my favorite of the three, and it's the type of thing I'd hope to see more of from the Thai action star.

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1 comment:

  1. wow 3/5,,,,
    i wondered what you didn't like about the movie.
    wire works?

    the movie was amazing to me man, 5/5
    can't to have it on bluray


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