15 March 2016

FrightFest Glasgow 2016 Review - SPL2: A Time for Consequences (2015)

SPL2: A Time for Consequences, directed by Pou-Soi Cheang, was an odd film on the Frightfest line-up, a sprawling crime drama with little direct interest in the values of Frightfest’s horror repertoire. Cheang’s film is a thematic sequel to Wilson Yip’s SPL: Killzone, bringing back cast members Simon Yam and Jing Wu as different characters in a new story.

Mr Hung (Louis Koo- Aberdeen, Drug War), is a mastermind criminal with a rare heart condition, out to kidnap his brother so he can steal his heart. Chan (Jing Wu) is an undercover cop, working with his partner (Simon Yam), to bring down Hung’s organ trafficking operation from the inside. In Thailand, a dedicated guard (Tony Jaa) with a sick daughter stumbles on the horrific setup and finds himself caught in the middle of cross-national criminal operation.

SPL2: A Time for Consequences is dressed up to feel like an East Asian crime masterpiece, as snappy as The Departed and as weighty as The Godfather but its still directed by a man with severely inconsistent talents. Cheang is an often middling director, unravelling his own films with alternating amounts of whip-smart action and dull plotting. That said, SPL2 is a far more enjoyable and involving feature than either Dog Bite Dog or Accident, and on many levels it trumps SPL: Kill Zone. SPL2 does have problems defining some of its many characters, not surprising when the plot jumps between Hong Kong and Thailand for a mess of police corruption, double-agents, and rogue-detectives.

Its not a film built to be as direct as we might want it, but Cheang gets the message across perfectly when he needs to. The kick-starting story-line of a brother out to kill his sibling for a heart transplant is an almost Shakespearean slant on an action film, matched by gorgeous opening credits and a sustained sense of hyper-drama throughout. This is, from the outset, as theatrical a piece of action as you might want, but there’s a grounded nature to most of the violence that really allows it to surpass any pretentiousness. Even moments of blatant outright shock (there are a few) fit in with the mood of a film which frequently swaps its locations between skyscraper cityscapes and a filthy Thia prison.
Surprisingly Cheang’s thematic sequel fixes many of the action issues found in Wilson Yip’s first instalment. The fights are better, faster, and less distanced by contrived drama, Cheang proves he can shoot intense action sequences, borrowing stylish flourishes from The Raid in order to draw them out. Horace Ma’s production design matches set to fight at every turn, giving the cast plenty of scenery to play with whilst giving the audience plenty to look at. Ma’s work on Red Nights was superb, but the sleek translation of Giallo thriller to modern urban martial arts drama suits him perfectly, lending to that theatricality.

The performers are a big part of the fun too; Tony Jaa is superb, an uncompromised action hero in world full of dirty fighters, Jing Wu makes a surprisingly astute fellow fighter and performer, and martial arts veteran Simon Yam continues to prove he’s one of the classiest stars of the Honk Kong action scene. The break-out performance of SPL2: A Time for Consequences comes from Jin Zhang who’s often unintelligible speed and resounding style make him a magnificent villain and an especially enjoyable rival for Jaa.

The film manages, at the very least, to severely entertain when it puts its key players in the same arena, especially in the finale showdown which proves the ultimate success of a fight isn’t in how hard you can hit the opposition, but if you’re fast enough to hit him at all. The essence of this fight perhaps encapsulates much of the film, a break-neck pace and sprawling storyline boisterously try to outdo Yip’s original, and they get it pretty spot-on. But moments of speed can come all too often, resulting in a lack of clarity which some will find annoying. Apart from that, there’s little to offend in this melodramatic action extravaganza except its wishy washy ending.

A well-paced action thriller with consistently terrific performances from its dedicated cast of martial arts stars, SPL2: A Time for Consequences has some over-complicated plotting, but simply superb action set-pieces.

Scott Clark

Action, Crime, Drama | Hong Kong, 2015 | 2016 Glasgow Film Festival | Jinga Films | TBC (UK) |Dir.Pou-Soi Cheang | Tony Jaa, Jing Wu, Simon Yam, Louis Koo, Jin Zhang,

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