'SPL 2: A Time for Consequences': Film Review

SPL 2 Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Bravos Pictures

SPL 2 Still - H 2015

A tight, entertaining action flick

Cheang Pou-soi follows up 'SPL' with a pan-Asian romp that features Thailand’s Tony Jaa and emerging mainland stars Wu Jing and Zhang Jin.

If there’s such a thing as a surgical thriller — literally, not figuratively — SPL 2: A Time for Consequences may be it. The more blatantly entertaining follow-up to Yip Wai-shun’s 2005 corrupt cop drama SPL (or Kill Zone) aims for a regional vibe that jumps from Hong Kong to Bangkok and unfolds in four languages. Far from being the convoluted mess it could have been, incoming director Cheang Pou-soi (Yip serves as a producer) crafts a tight, swiftly paced action yarn that ensures viewers won’t be pining for the presence of the first film’s stars, Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung.

The frantic energy and creative fight choreography in Consequences are the only returning elements from the first film, a sequel in name only; co-star Simon Yam (playing a different character) is the sole actor to return. But the “franchise” is in good hands with Cheang and action director Li Ching-chi, who are blessed with a top-drawer cast of martial-arts performers in breakout roles rounding out the cast. Wolf WarriorsWu Jing (looking like the hybrid clone of Nicholas Tse and Michael Wong), perpetual supporting player Zhang Jin (Rise of the Legend, The Grandmaster) and Ong Bak’s Tony Jaa (who gets to show off more of his talents than he did in Furious 7) are stellar additions who compel audiences to overlook narrative glitches. SPL 2: A Time for Consequences isn’t going to make anyone forget The Raid anytime soon (and it does try and recall that film), but it’s strong genre material that should earn solid box office returns in Asia-Pacific and in overseas markets where Asian action plays well.

The story that brings new meaning to “medical tourism” opens with terminally ill organ trafficking crime boss Hung Man-keung (Louis Koo at his least sexy) carrying out his business, little realizing there’s an undercover cop within his ranks. In a vague case of history repeating itself, Chan Kwok-wah (Yam) has placed Chan Chi-kit (Wu) so close to the thugs that Kit has developed a thug’s drug habit. Still, they’re close to a major arrest. At the same time, Hung is busy looking for a heart donor that’s a match for his extremely rare Bombay phenotype blood — and it looks like he may have to resort to taking his brother’s (Jun Kung). In traditional Hong Kong crime-thriller fashion, the major arrest goes south, a gunfight erupts, the gang gets away and Kit winds up in a Bangkok prison after his cover is compromised.

One of the prison guards is the desperate Chai (Jaa), who works at the prison because it’s his best chance at earning enough cash to find a bone marrow donor for his leukemia-afflicted daughter Sa (Unda Kunteera Thordchanng, the only female role of note). In the kind of coincidence that only happens in movies, a match has been located in Hong Kong, and it happens to be Kit. Of course, they can’t locate him because his phone was pitched into the harbor after the OK Corral. In another bit of movie magic the phone works just fine after being submerged for who knows how long in Hong Kong’s harbor.

Those are just a few of the narrative threads Cheang and co-writers Jill Leung Lai-yin and Wong Ying must weave together in between bone-crunching action and gasp-inducing fights. By the halfway point of the film there have been at least three significant set pieces, including the shootout at Hong Kong’s new cruise ship terminal (no shiny buildings escape target practice in Hong Kong) and a prison riot, complete with gloriously contrasting visuals — the former all stark, sterile glass and steel, the latter grimy, rusty, dank concrete. Things kick into even higher gear when the role of the prison’s corrupt warden, Ko (Zhang), is revealed. Ko is somehow indebted to Hung and uses the prison as a way station for the organs that are being trafficked. When Chan finally susses out Kit’s location and makes a trip to Thailand at the same time as Hung is prepping his brother for surgery, also in Thailand, all the pieces line up for a showdown (or three) for the ages.

That the ridiculous story somehow hangs together — and is easy to follow for the most part — is a testament to Cheang and editor David Richardson’s careful construction; production specs are also strong across the board. Ultimately the story is secondary to the action, which rarely lets up and never lets viewers down. In a film overflowing with fighting talent, everyone gets their moment in the sun and it never feels contrived. Wu does some of his best work in his most memorable film so far, even though his performance falls a bit flat when he’s not throwing down. After making a splash in Ong Bak back in 2003 and then seemingly vanishing for a time, Jaa returns in fine form, proving he may be Hollywood-ready. The standout, however, is Zhang, who blends imperiousness with high style for his dangerous warden. He’s so cool you know the fight takes a turn to his disadvantage only when a few of his impeccably placed hairs fall out of place. Ko is the kind of old-school badass action movies don’t have enough of these days. SPL 2: A Time for Consequences is also something a lot of action films too often forget to be: fun.

Production company: Tin Tin Film Production

Cast: Tony Jaa, Wu Jing, Zhang Jin, Louis Koo, Simon Yam, Unda Kunteera Thordchanng, Dominic Lam, Kenneth Low, Philip Keung, Babyjohn Choi, Jun Kung, Aaron Chow

Director: Cheang Pou-soi

Screenwriter: Jill Leung Lai-yin, Wong Ying

Producer: Yip Wai-shun, Paco Wong

Executive producer: Alvin Chau, Alex Dong, Chen Yi Qi, Yu Dong, Andrew Chu

Director of photography: Tse Chung-to

Production designer: Horace Ma

Costume designer: Bruce Yu

Editor: David Richardson

Music: Chan Kwong-wing

World sales: Bravos Pictures Limited

No rating, 120 minutes