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The last two years have been good for fans of Hong Kong cinema with several films that have marked a return to form for gritty cop and gangster actioners such as Divergence (2005) or One Night In Mongkok (2004). But how about a serious gritty powerful good-cop and bad-gangster film with terrific action sequences and top of the line martial arts? SPL: Saat Po Long (2005) delivers on all fronts when Hong-Kong legends Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung face off in some of their best work to date.
Detective Chan (Simon Yam) is diagnosed with terminal Cancer and decides to stop at nothing and break all the rules of the Police Force to catch his arch-enemy, the powerful triad lord Wong Po (Sammo Hung), before he retires. When star cop Ma Kwan (Donnie Yen) joins the team, confrontations erupt and are not resolved until the three men face off in a grand finale.
The story is rather standard, with clearly delineated good guys and bad guys. Traditional themes of honor abound, but what makes this movie different though is the quality of the cast and the little details that make the main characters very likable, or at least, people you can relate with and feel for. In particular, Sammo Hung's character is very interesting as it combines a ruthless, powerful and violent man with aspects that clearly mark that the man wants to retire and reform himself in some ways. This makes that villain character one you can empathize with. This approach to the characters, and the rather grim turns the story takes are critical to heighten the action scenes to moments of sheer pleasure where your heart races. And what action scenes they are! It's quite a long time since i saw martial arts done so well, with such strength and realism. This film will be remembered as one of the top Hong Kong action films, with expertly done martial art fights. Choreographed by Donnie Yen himself, the moves are fresh, and the fights are filmed with an expert eye. Of course, it helps that the two Hong-Kong legends fight it off against one another. Every kick and every blow feel so real. You can tell that both Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen are very skilled, trust one another, and never held back.
Hong Kong Trailer
It's even more amazing to see Sammo Hung, a 300-pound 54 year old man seemingly at the top of his game. He is agile, so damn fast, and ever so powerful. He is a pleasure to watch, and this film reminds us why he is still one of the top martial artist alive today even if he hadn't done much in the last decade performance-wise. Donnie Yen is also fantastic of course and shows with this film that he can hold his own with the better known masters of the genre in either performance (Jackie Chan, Jet Li), or choreographers (Corey Yuen, Woo-ping Yuen). He may not have the exposure those other guys get, but as far as i am concerned, he is one of the best living martial artists today.
This film is violent, and exhilarating. You care about the characters, and when they fight, it's impossible not to be sucked in because you want to know what happens to them. The brilliance of the choreography is the cherry on the cake, and establish intense action moments that rest on a solid emotional foundation. The film is well written, well acted, well filmed, and contains enough twists and turns to make this otherwise standard story line full of surprises and excite even the most jaded Hong Kong aficionado.
A key action scene
- Laurent Hasson