As always, I like to seek out the newest and best martial arts films from around the world but unfortunately, the truly high quality ones are few and far between. For every Raid 2 or Ip Man, there are a dozen others like Wolf Warrior or The Protector 2. The latest martial arts movie I got a hold of is the 2015 Hong Kong action thriller SPL II: A Time for Consequences, released this year in the United States under the title Kill Zone 2.
The first film in the series, 2005’s SPL: Kill Zone, simultaneously boosted the career of Donnie Yen as a lead actor and introduced us to the relatively new and talented martial artist Wu Jing, while also showing us that martial arts legend Sammo Hung could still fight with the best of them. It had some solid choreography and a story engaging enough to not be boring. While not the most epic or impressive martial arts film, it was undeniably enjoyable.
As star Donnie Yen went on to pump out a number of high quality martial arts films, most notably Ip Man and Dragon (Wu Xia), Wu Jing seemed to flounder. While he certainly received an influx of roles, including a few starring ones, most were mediocre at best. I kept hoping he would land a role befitting his talent and that would jettison him to stardom. When it was announced he was going to be starring in Kill Zone 2, I thought that maybe it was finally his time, and that this could do for his career what the first did for Donnie Yen’s.
One thing that should be noted is that even though Wu Jing, and also actor Simon Yam, are in SPL: Kill Zone and Kill Zone 2, there is really no connection between the two films as both actors are playing different characters, a fact that should be known to any who watched the first film in which Wu Jing’s character died at the hands of Donnie Yen. So I am honestly not sure why this is considered a sequel to the first movie and I am guessing it is titled as such only to capitalize on the popularity of SPL: Kill Zone.
Kill Zone 2 follows undercover Hong Kong cop Chan Chi-Kit (Wu Jing) after his cover is blown and he is imprisoned in Thailand by corrupt warden Ko Hung (Jin Zhang). Prison guard Chatchai (Tony Jaa) is just trying to keep his head down and out of the shady aspects of the prison all while he works to earn money for his critically ill daughter Sa, who desperately needs a bone marrow transplant and the only donor match is unable to be found. Meanwhile, Chan’s uncle, Police Detective Chan Kwok-Wah (Simon Yam) is trying to locate his nephew and take down the organ trafficking syndicate Chan was investigating.
Throughout the course of the film, Chatchai’s moral compass doesn’t allow him to sit idly by and watch as Ko Hung continues his criminal activities within the prison and ultimately, he joins forces with Chan to take him and the organ traffickers down. Additionally, Chan turns out to be the bone marrow match for Sa that they had been seeking all along, a fact that seems a little too contrived and unnecessary, especially considering how it is handled.
Now, I get it. Chatchai needs motivation for doing what he is doing, which in this case is his dying daughter. But to make the only known donor a man from another country that just so happens to have pissed off the wrong people and gotten illegally thrown into the very same prison that Chatchai works at just felt forced and the film doesn’t do enough to make it a believable happenstance. They don’t even use that information in a meaningful way. For instance, I thought that maybe they would use this as the trigger for Chatchai to help Chan and set him free, but neither of them even know about it until well after Chatchai helped him escape.
One of the biggest points of contention I have for this movie is the pacing, which is mainly an issue for the Sa storyline. A fair amount of time is spent with either Sa or Chatchai trying to track down this mysterious donor, who ends up being Chan. However, we see Chan lose his phone in the water and it is later recovered by some random guy. Not only does the phone still work but both Chatchai and Sa talk to this guy a handful of times in trying to figure out who the donor is. Typically these scenes completely halt any momentum of the story and the ultimate pay off of Chan being the donor is pretty weak making me wonder why even do it.
So how about the action, which is one of the most important aspects of a film like this. Well, I am happy to say there is a fair amount of fight scenes and they’re pretty damn solid. We have a couple bouts between the immensely talented Tony Jaa and Wu Jing before they join forces and then the pair take on another talented martial artist in Jin Zhang, who recently made a splash displaying his talent in Ip Man 3. Scattered throughout are a few other altercations, including some "one-versus-many" fights. However, there isn’t really anything jaw-dropping or special overall. It looks good and the choreography is solid, but that’s about it.
Honestly, just about every time they tried to do something impressive, such as a single long take during a prison riot that moves between various fights, I just thought “the Raid series did it better.” And then they give us a fast and violent set piece when a knife wielding villain takes out a dozen cops, which would have been a lot better had the blood not looked so obviously CGI. The blood spurts looked about as good as the fire effects in Birdemic: Shock and Terror.
Again, the Raid series did the CGI violence better. It’s a tall order to follow in the footsteps of The Raid, or even of Tony Jaa’s early work such as Ong-Bak. This may be better than a lot of the schlock that has been churned out recently but it is certainly not an instant classic.
All of this isn’t to say it’s bad. It is still enjoyable, just rather unspectacular. It is certainly one of Tony Jaa’s best efforts in recent years, but that isn’t saying much considering his last few starring roles. Martial arts fans will easily enjoy the clashes between Jaa and Jing and the story is fine, but in this day and age, there are far better options out there. If it wasn’t hindered by shifts of tone and pace via the daughter storyline or lackluster CGI in more than one spot, this easily could have been an above average experience. As it stands, you could still do a lot worse than watching Kill Zone 2, but you could also do better. For die-hard fans of martial arts movies such as myself, there’s enough here to enjoy until we get our next dose of fisticuffs on film, just don’t expect to be wowed.
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Andy Snyder is a writer and regular contributor for Happy Dragon Pictures. He loves video games, films from all over the world, screenwriting and kittens.