Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I tell you it's about gatdamn time.  I remember the first time I saw just a snippet of a clip from John Woo's 'The Killer'.  I didn't know what it was or what it was about, but I knew I had to get mysef a copy.  To this day 'The Killer' is still one of my favorite films and it introduced to me the world of Hong Kong cinema.  My goodness those were the days.  For years there was an endless string of outstanding, hard edged films that were completely unapologetic, bullets flew like dollars at strip clubs and you didn't know if the hero was going to live or die.  There are far too many great films to name but Woo's 'A Better Tomorrow' comes to mind, or years later Johnny To's outstanding 'The Mission' or Wai Keung Lau's 'Infernal Affairs'.  Even the over the top Die Hard-esque action films like Woo's own 'Hard Boiled' or Jet Li's 'High Risk' set new standards.  Heck, in 'High Risk' a bomb expert actually clipped the wrong wire and blew up a school bus full of children.  You don't see that very often in American Cinema. 

Then something went terribly wrong.  Since I don't live in China and have no direct information to what happened, I can't pinpoint it.   These hard edged, hard boiled action films gave way to pop stars and silly coconut on the head comedies and basically a general overall theme of lameness.  Perhaps its Jackie Chan's fault, as his successes may have prompted other Chinese actors to believe that the road to American riches is paved with slapstick.  John Woo left Hong Kong and seems to have forgotten to bring anything from his legendary skill set with him from Hong Kong to America.  Sammo Hung had a prime time TV show for goodness sakes.  Yes, I still continued to follow Hong Kong cinema, hoping that maybe I'll see something that rekindled those old urban fires, but other than a few exceptions I've been disappointed.

This is why we graciously welcome Wilson Yip's 'Kill Zone', or ‘Sha Po Lang’ as it is known in its native land.  Is it the best movie to come out Hong Kong?  No, but it at least it doesn’t have a pop duo singing set of twins in it anywhere.  Sammo Hung is brutal Kingpin Wang Po and is about to go on trial for basically all of his crimes against humanity.  All detective Chung (Simon Yam) and his team have to do is deliver the star witness to the trial in one piece.  With arms that reach far beyond prison, Wang Po eliminates the witness, despite being under the direct protection of Detective Chung.  A few complications result from this murder, one being the witness leaving a three year old girl an orphan, and under the care of Detective Chung and second being the discovery of a cancerous brain tumor in Detective Chung. 

A few years pass, Wang Po has only gotten bigger (literally and figuratively) and more powerful while the detectives case has stagnated.  Now days from retirement and about to be replaced by new hotshot Inspector Ma Kwan (Donnie Yen), Chung and his crew pulls out ALL the stops to finally put Wang Po on ice before retirement, not to mention the rather aggressive brain tumor.  As is common in films from Hong Kong, be they crime stories or silly romantic comedies, there are all kinds other little plot points and side stories happening, but we won’t get into those but just note that everything is relevant and eventually falls into place one way or the other.

HK film watchers welcome the name the Weinstein Company and their subsidiary Dragon Dynasty like fifty year old men welcome prostate exams.  These cats have a history of chopping up, re-editing, and bastardizing even the best HK film properties they buy and dumping them on an unsuspecting American public.  And yet they still sit around and wonder why this wonderful idea of theirs is floundering so badly.  Even though I had a sense of some chunks of this movie may be missing, they didn’t do such a poor job of it that it was incomprehensible.  Just note that if you do rent or buy this film, Job One is turning off the horrendous dub.  I’ll be damned if I sit through some lazy American voice actor speaking for Simon Yam.  Oh hell to the no.

‘Kill Zone’ was similar to Brain DePalma’s ‘Untouchables’ with flawed but incorruptible cops who weren’t so untouchable after all.  It was slickly produced, briskly paced and a treat for the senses.  This would be the first time that I’ve seen Sammo Hung as the heavy, so to speak, and even with a limited amount of lines he virtually stole the show.  With a simple glare, he let you know that he was someone not to be trifled with.  There were only three Donnie Yen choreographed fight scenes, but they were outstanding, particularly the closing battles between Yen and Wu Jing, and Yen and Hung. 

In all honesty, ‘Kill Zone’ is a couple of years old at the time of this writing and I’ve seen quite a few of the previously mentioned, incredibly lame Hong Kong features since its release, so it’s not like this film is a return to a once great genre.  However I will be completely satisfied if just every once in while I get an old fashioned, brutal, tragic, urban crime drama like the kind I’ve seen with ‘Kill Zone’.

Real Time Web