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The film wasn't going to be part action film at first but that changed once Donnie Yen came on-board. As the film's action director, Donnie requested additional funds in order to shoot action scenes accordingly to the story. The result became the now famous alley fight and the last fight with Jing Wu and Sammo Kam-Bo Hung respectively. See more »
Resets the standard for modern day martial arts films
When I found the film was having its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, I made it first priority to go see it. I saw it with a friend at an Industry screening in rush line. Donnie versus Sammo, can it get any better than that?
The story of the film, to make it simple, Simon Yam is the retiring determined bad-good cop, Donnie is the new good-good cop replacing him and Sammo is the mob boss. The film takes place during father's day and every character in the film is either a son or a father. Everyone is dealing with some form of father and son relationship; Sammo's character is expecting a child, Simon Yam has an adopted daughter of whose real parents were killed by men sent from Sammo, Donnie's character defies his father's wishes to become a policeman and so forth. The theme serves to add a emotional element that connects all the characters in the film. None of the characters are extreme good or extreme evil, everybody is shades of grey on different levels. There seems to be a very heavy Infernal Affairs influence here coupled with the bleak colours and dark settings. However, the film does not take itself as seriously as the IA trilogy. There are many moments of humor and it works well to break the tension of the film in the beginning to middle. The humor leaves at the middle to the finale at the end when things start to get serious; which helps engage the audience and assures them the film does not take itself any more seriously but to engage you for the duration of the movie to entertain you.
The film is shot very stylishly. Combined with the duration of the film (the film clocks in to about 97 minutes), I can imagine the meanest western critic would say this film is pretentious, trading too much style for not enough storytelling in such a short time. (Yes I already see that coming, aren't I pretty?) I would d say that would be the wrong way to look at it, because he would be forgetting the fact that this a modern day kung fu film, which has always been a very hard genre to do. In the modern day setting, it basically means you're more grounded and limited by the realms of reality, which means no obvious wirework and more realistic choreography, which you need expert talent to pull off. When you're in ancient times, you can get away with stuff, not in modern day. The story lines for modern day martial arts films have not been very impressive either in the past. It's it's own ballgame in my opinion. Only recent one I can think of is Danny the Dog/Unleashed, an old example being Jackie Chan's Police Story series (and I don't count the unevenly New Police Story).
And now, the thing you've been waiting for,.... the action! Donnie Yen commented that this was the pinnacle of his career with SPL. When you see the film, you can see what he's talking about. You know that thing when you hear reading about kung fu movies sometimes when Bruce Lee moves too fast for the camera and they ask him to slow down so people can see what's going on? I don't think much of that was going on here in SPL. The fights were lightning fast and brutal. Every move was checkmate and everyone's going for the throat. The fights are not many, but they are cruelly intense. The fight with Wu Jing and Donnie Yen in the alleyway was spectacular, I think they were rolling camera and just going at it full speed. I guess it seemed natural to do a weapon fight (baton vs. a short Japanese knife) because Wu Jing has a more graceful swift strength as to Donnie's hard and solid's. The finale with Sammo and Donnie was my favorite. Sammo is a fifty-year old two hundred pound fat man and he moves like he never aged at all. He keeps up every second with Donnie. No one had to slow anything down for him, nor nothing was undercranked or wired. Wrestling seemed to be a very natural choice for this fight, given the circumstances; Donnie and Sammo are hard, solid strength types and it added a new visual element compared to Donnie's In The Line of Duty and Tiger Cage days. This fight was so intense it made me forget what the plot of the story was about, I forgot why Donnie was fighting Sammo plotwise and just purely experienced the cinematics of the fight. You'll see what I mean when you see the film.
Yes, SPL succeeds in what it does. With more martial arts films coming out internationally (such as Ong Bak), as Donnie has been quoted as saying repetitively, Hong Kong has deteriorated in its quality of kung fu film, despite the fact that Hong Kong choreography has now become international. SPL sets the standard again and reminds the world that we still have a few things up our sleeves and that this is the Hong Kong brand of action choreography. So yes, martial arts fans, you'll definitely dig it. It's on your must-see list for sure.
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