SPL (2005)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-03-15
Summary: An outstanding bad guy
“SPL” has attracted a number of exceptionally written reviews and I can’t add much to the discussion of the overall impact of the movie, even though there has been a real diversity of opinion regarding its merits. There are, however, a couple of points....

Sammo Hung as Wong Po is a truly scary and evil movie gangsters, comparable to Robert De Niro as Al Capone in “The Untouchables”, Joe Pesci as Nicky Santoro in “Casino” or Kirk Douglas as Noll Turner in “I Walk Alone”. Each of these guys had a presence that went beyond being a mob boss—you got the sense that they would dominate any situation they walked into and had been doing so for many years. The Al Capone character is one type of underworld leader that Hollywood likes to represent—the thug who shot his way to the top and is still the toughest guy in the room, no matter what room. If he has to beat a man to death with a baseball bat to make a point he will. Noll Turner is the other side, the criminal who, while be no means going straight, has filed off a lot of the rough edges and who is happy to let his underlings deal with the messy stuff like beating and killing. He is still ruthless but no longer enjoys feeling the crunch of bones breaking beneath his fists.

Wong Po is a terrific character because he combines both types of cinema mobsters. It is difficult to imagine someone better suited for this role than Sammo Hung. Like De Niro, her brings a feeling of menace when he first appears on the screen. You know immediately that this is a man to be reckoned with, the one guy who will define what everyone else in the movie does. The costuming—a three piece suit with the vest buttoned and the tied tight—both conceals and accentuates his bulk. The costuming, lighting and framing make him look enormous, even when he is sitting down. The scene in prison in which he makes a call on his lawyer’s mobile phone, despite a guard telling him he can’t do that, then pocketing the phone and challenging the guard to take it away from him, is a perfect example. The guard is standing in the foreground of the shot and may as well be a part of the wall. The lawyer faces Wong Po and partially faces away from the camera. Wong Po sits, as solid as a stone Buddha and as big as a boulder, facing the camera and the guard. Even while seated he looms over the other two.

This scene is also important in showing just how personally powerful Wong Po is. Even when he is in custody the viewer knows he is the most dominant and even compelling person in the police station and one can see why he is so dismissive of the efforts to Chan and his team to bring him down. A lot of very bad things can happen when one is in the control of the police, even when he is protected by the senior officer present, which Wong is. One can be shot while trying to escape, can fall down a flight of stone stairs while being moved from one section of the jail to another, can slip and fall, striking his head against the metal corner of a filing cabinet. One almost assumes it will happen when the bad guy in question has been hunted for years by the team of cops who brought him in. But Sammo walks into the jail the same way he walks into his office—his Wong Po is still in command of the situation and, while being inconvenienced by the being arrested it won’t slow him down much—his slick Noll Turner side. The rough and crude Al Capone side comes out when he is leaving—he tells Chan that Chan won’t leave the police station alive. He is completely credible when he does this—you feel that he has is able to completely reverse the power equation and reach into the stronghold of the police to kill a senior officer.

During the scenes of violence, not limited to the final battle between Wong and Ma Kwan, one was always aware that this was Sammo Hung on the screen. Even though the use of stunt doubles and constructive editing was obvious, Sammo’s accomplishments and reputation as a great actor, martial artist, fight choreographer and director accompanied ever move that Wong Po made. One didn’t see an overweight fifty-three year old who has taken a lot of punishment over the years. One saw Gei Cheun of “Warriors Two”, Fat Tung of “Pedicab Driver” and Butcher Wing of “The Victim”.
Reviewer Score: 8