SPL (2005)
Reviewed by: Gaijin84 on 2006-03-22
Summary: Donnie Yen hears the call and answers...
SPL, the highly anticipated and then applauded police thriller from Wilson Yip, had a lot of hype to live up to when I popped it in my DVD player. Fortunately, it lived up in almost every fashion to the praise it had received. It has been called a return to the gritty, crime drama style that had made Hong Kong cinema so popular in the 90s and it certainly follows that formula and succeeds. Simon Yam plays an embattled Inspector who has made it his life's mission to take down the crime lord Wong Po, played masterfully by the legendary Sammo Hung. As his tenure on the force is quickly winding down and a new inspector (Donnie Yen) is coming to take his place, he decides to pull out all the stops in his quest to capture Wong, even if it means skirting police procedures and coming very close to the line of becoming a vigilante. Ma Kwan (Donnie Yen), who has crossed this line before, must decide if he wants to join Inspector Chan (Simon Yam) and his men back to the decent into lawlessness, even if a greater good would be accomplished by the ends.

SPL combines solid acting, a plausible, well-constructed plot and expertly choreographed fight scenes to produce an excellent film that reminds us of the magic that can be created by the film industry in Hong Kong. When Ong Bak, the Thai martial arts masterpiece, was released and caught the attention of so many for its unbelievable fighting sequences, Donnie Yen has (in effect) commented that he had to raise the bar and show that Hong Kong was on par with anyone. The resulting scenes in SPL are truly groundbreaking in many aspects. Yen incorporates a large amount of grappling, locks and throws into the choreography. The most ambitious battles between him and the fantastic Wu Jing and then him and Sammo Hung illustrate where screen martial arts could be heading. Although, in general, we are not used to seeing this type of MMA style, it is expertly filmed and is just as exciting as more traditional wushu fights. Although SPL certainly boasts a top-notch cast, with the excellent Simon Yam and versatile character actor Liu Kai-Chi, the movie is greatly improved by the presence of Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung. I've never seen Donnie come off so charismatic in a film before and perhaps that is due to the passion that he felt for the movie itself and his significant role in the production. Sammo Hung is also in rare form as the gangster Wong Po, a role we have rarely seen him in. He seems to revel in the chance to delve into the darker side of a character, and comes off as a dangerous and powerful man to be reckoned with.

Hopefully, SPL will usher in a new era in the Hong Kong film industry that will bring it back to the glory days in terms of creativity and action.
Reviewer Score: 9