Monday, November 21, 2005


This review is brought to you courtesy of a movieXclusive preview session, otherwise it won't be out so soon!

I was full of hope for this movie, mainly because of its stellar cast of Simon Yam, Samo Hung and Donnie Yen, and the hype up confrontation cum battle between the latter two on screen. With their martial arts background, action fans will be in for a treat. Also, with the string of disappointments so far with Mob Sister and Election (the edited version shown here), I'd thought that this one would've lived up to its potential (no coincidence that Yam was in the other 2 films mentioned).

While I enjoyed the movie and its build up, I felt particularly let down by the ending. The beginning of the movie with its explanation of the background of the Chinese Astrology the film identifies itself with (hence the acronym SPL) would have set the expectation, but perhaps its the execution that I couldn't come to terms with. Then again, it provided one of the better special effects / stunt shots. It could (and I am speculating here) the ending was such cos "I'm the bigger star here".

But I'm digressing. It's a cops-and-robbers story that has set its main focus simply at cops going all out to nab the robber. Simon Yam and his team of maverick cops share their common hatred for Samo Hung, the same way that Kevin Costner's Elliot Ness and his Untouchables do with Robert De Niro's Al Pacino. They try to nail the mobster, but each time he goes scot free. Things get interesting when opportunity presents itself, as morality gets questioned, and highlights the good/bad/ugly, black/white/gray situations that cops sometimes find themselves in with that universal question - Do the means matter to justify the end?

Thrown into the fray is hotshot-ultracool demeanour cop Donnie Yen, who is supposed to take over from Yam as the latter is set to retire over the Father's Day weekend. He too has his loyalties challenged when he learns of the plot that Yam and team pulls. What appeals is the way these characters get sucked into a chain of events that neither can pull out from - does fate/destiny/the stars all determine the chain of events that follow?

The subplots get in the way sometimes, as the pace for the events that follow that weekend gets broken up for sentimentality - Yam's taking care of a little girl smells like Mob Sister's, a cop buddy's love for his estranged daughter bears some resemblance to The Rock's Sean Connery, and Samo Hung's love for his wife and newborn child interrupts tense moments with its dreamy mobile phone ring tone. I was also wondering whether Simon Yam found it deja-vu to be driving Yen around in a car, showing their jurisdiction - seemed too familiar with a similar scene in Election where he was driving Tony Leung around to show him their territory.

Though you might expect to see punches fly between Yen and Hung, and with its M18 rating, you really don't get to see punches until at least 30 minutes into the movie. While the fight between the two upstages Daredevil's (hero versus oversized Kingpin; I'm still amazed by Samo's agility at his age), it's really the battle between Yen and newcomer Jing Wu (an uber-violent knife wielding villain) that is the highlight and makes this movie worth the price of admission. It's fast, slick, violent, and beautifully choreographed, you'd just wish it could've been longer. Violent it is, and uncensored, but it doesn't get too gratuitous with blood. The fight sequences stand out for its stark brutality, and perhaps also for its realism.

You must forgive the acting at times though, as there's nothing to shout about really. Simon Yam is the no-nonsence, but willing to bend the rules cop, Donnie Yen with his over-confident attitude, and Hung just hams it up as the cigar chomping Kingpin of Crime. But perhaps I would like to shout about the introduction of Yam's team to the audience when Yen visited their empty office - it's very retro, with the characters given the spotlight after undergoing a short action sequence in a police raid.

On the whole, the movie works, up till the supposed ending which put me off, and where the final "hurrah" brings it down a little. It has many stylized moments accompanied with an upbeat soundtrack, but it's substance over style that matters sometimes. I'd recommend it for the stylo-mylo moments, the alleyway fight, and the suggestion that not everything can be categorized into black and white.

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