'Paradox': Film Review
Hong Kong director Wilson Yip returns to the burgeoning, bruising 'SPL' franchise with a gritty Thailand-set action thriller featuring Louis Koo and Tony Jaa.
Power, corruption and lies are at the heart of Paradox, Ip Man director Wilson Yip’s brutal, bloody action thriller that (maybe) rounds out the extremely loose cops-and-robbers trilogy he started with SPL in 2005 and handed over to Cheang Pou-Soi (here a producer) for SPL 2: A Time for Consequences in 2015. Reuniting with the legendary actor and action choreographer Sammo Hung, alter ego Louis Koo (as tanned and impeccably coiffed as ever) and acrobatic Thai martial arts star Tony Jaa, Wilson whips up an efficiently sleek actioner that knows where its comfort zone is and doesn’t stray from it. Surprising as often as it is conventional, Paradox will easily find the same audiences that responded to the first two films, regardless of how unrelated they are, and that should hold for distributors as well.
Like the earlier entries, Paradox trades in bone-crunching fight sequences and creative use of its locations — in this case, Thailand’s grimier side — as well as anything Hung and the nimble cast can get their hands on. This can include, but is not limited to, laundry, houseplants, patio furniture and, of course, exotic fruit (it’s Thailand after all). Hung’s fingerprints are all over Paradox, and under his masterful guidance he and Yip have managed the impossible: making Koo look badass.
The story begins with Koo (in full snotty, teary, lip-trembling mode), as Hong Kong cop Lee Chung-Chi, reflecting on his adorable daughter Wing-Chi, waking up in the morning and recalling a time she bounced into his bed with a video camera. Clearly, disaster looms. After meeting the now-teenaged Wing-Chi (Hanna Chan) and her boyfriend, the news that she “wants to keep the baby” does not go over well. The next time we see Wing-Chi, it’s when she’s being abducted from the Pattaya waterfront. After a nervous call from a friend, Lee heads down to Thailand, where he inserts himself into the investigation into Wing-Chi’s disappearance. Lee works the case with local cops Chui Kit (Wu Yue, Police Story: Lockdown), whose wife is six months pregnant and whose father-in-law is high-ranking police inspector Chai (Only God Forgives’ Vithaya Pansringarm), and the possibly psychic Tak (Jaa, stellar).
Yip and writer Jill Leung (Ip Man 3) do a leisurely and nearly silent job of laying the foundations of the story and what amounts to its larger conspiracy (naturally). Leung also makes good use of playing with time to uncover some of Lee’s indiscretions (his reaction to Wing’s pregnancy is even worse than we thought), and drops in the heavies effortlessly and without disrupting the forward momentum. We know the ailing mayor of Bangkok, his political lackey Cheng Hon-Sau (Gordon Lam, once again proving he’s one of the Hong Kong industry’s MVPs), rapist thug cop Ban (Ken Low) and American (why?) meat packer Sacha (Chris Collins) — possessed of an endless supply of Panama hats — will all play a part down the road, so there’s no need to get fancy. There’s also a hooker with a heart of gold (Jacky Cai) for good measure.
The narrative is largely in service of the action, and despite a protracted third act, Paradox moves along at a healthy clip, slowing down only to give Lee and Chui time to connect over their shared fatherhood and find a common quest for vengeance. The lurking idea that those with power give not a whit for those without it — and will use it to their benefit — is underplayed, as is the systemic corruption that gives it life and our collective unwillingness to confront it.
Kenneth Tse’s assured cinematography toggles between cool blues and steely grays, and vibrant urban color, giving the best sequences — the jackboots storming in during the final showdown to protect the status quo, moped-hurdling foot chase — room to breathe, and perfectly complements Wong Hoi ‘s frantic editing during close quarter fisticuffs. Things get a bit out of hand near the end, and needless to say there’s not nearly enough of Jaa, but Wu and Koo do respectable impressions: Koo’s final search for Sacha, where he’s clearly in no mood for games, is a vicarious pleasure. A fourth SPL would be welcome.
Production company: Aether Film Production, Sun Entertainment Films, Bona Film Group, Shanghai Alibaba Pictures, Sunny Side Up (Never) Limited, Sil-Metropole Organisation
Cast: Louis Koo, Gordon Lam, Tony Jaa, Wu Yue, Chris Collins, Ken Low, Vithaya Pansringarm, Hanna Chan, Jacky Cai, Michelle Saram
Director: Wilson Yip
Screenwriter: Jill Leung
Producers: Paco Wong, Cheang Pou-Soi
Executive producers: Alvin Chau, Alex Dong, Yu Dong, YongFu Yu, Chen Yiqi
Director of photography: Kenneth Tse
Production designer: Mak Kwok-Keung
Costume designer: Karen Yip
Editor: Wong Hoi
Music: Ken Chan, Comfort Chan
World sales: Bravos Pictures Limited
In Cantonese and Thai