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Sha Po Lang: Paradox
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by Jay Seaver

"More crime, less MMA"
3 stars

So far as I know, no North America distributor has yet bought up the rights to the latest entry in the "Sha Po Lang" franchise, renamed it "Kill Zone 3", and waited until nearly a year after its Hong Kong release to release it, and that's both kind of surprising and kind of not: As much as noteworthy Chinese movies have been getting same-day (or at least quick) releases abroad in recent years, and this series is certainly noteworthy, this entry is a different beast, less focused on the martial-arts action and more on the dark, underlying themes.

It continues the series' tradition of starting fresh with each entry, with characters from the previous film in different roles. In this case, Louis Koo Tin-lok plays Lee Chung-chi, a Hong Kong detective who tends to still think of his daughter Wing-chi (Hanna Chan Hon-na) as a little girl, although she's not that pre-schooler any more, breaking the news that she's in love and pregnant as Chung-chi is buying her dinner for her sixteenth birthday. Inspector Lee does not take that well, and soon Wing-chi has run off to Pattaya, Thailand, to visit a friend who works there as a tattoo artist (Iris Lam). She goes missing, and Lee convinces local detective Chui Kit (Yue Wu) to let him tag along on the case. It turns out that she's been kidnapped by organ traffickers led by ex-mercenary Sacha (Chris Collins), and the mayor needs a new heart.

Louis Koo is a big star in Hong Kong, but he's not primarily a kung fu guy like the previous stars of these movies (Donnie Yen, Wu Jing, and Tony Jaa). He can play intense with the best of them, and doing so forms the backbone of this movie, from the tightly-coiled rage as Lee discovers just how grown-up Wing-chi is to his determination upon discovering who is responsible for the horrific ordeal she's been put through. It's not a terribly broad range of emotion to play, but Koo finds the right nuance for each scene to keep Lee from just being a set-jaw robot with one operating mode; whether Lee is pushed further into despair or given a temporary glimpse of hope, it feels authentic right down to a moment visiting Chui's wife in the hospital where he still seems focused but not unable to grasp what others are also going through. The crime film industry cranks out enough cops like Lee Chung-chi every year that it's tough to make a new one stick out, and while Koo may not manage that, he doesn't often misstep and the movie gets the job done because of him.

The rest of the cast is capable, but not given as much to do as Koo, and there's a clear line between those who are there to fight and those who are there to act. Wu Yue sort of straddles it, a solid presence who plays well off both Koo and Siraphan Wattanajinda as Chui's wife and Vithaya Pansringarm as his father-in-law, but comes a bit more alive when the action starts. Chan Hon-na is a nice discovery as Wing-chi, and Jackie Choi Kit has a nice set of scenes as a prostitute Lee meets during the investigation. Chris Collins is pretty darn rough as Sacha, though, and Tony Jaa gets by on a seventy-five percent charm and twenty-five percent the audience knowing he's Tony Jaa and he will eventually do something awesome to compensate.

Which he eventually does, because while the martial arts isn't as central a focus as it was in the previous SPL/Kill Zone movies, there are still two or three pretty impressive fights. Director Wilson Yip re-teams with action director Sammo Hung (they worked together on the first Kill Zone and the Ip Man films), and their fight scenes are more conventional than the mixed-martial-arts-infused sequences of the film's predecessors. Jaa only gets one fight, but it's a good one, and he bounces and leaps like nobody's business. Wu Yue looks pretty good too, getting longer, quicker sequences than one might expect for a guy who initially appears to be there for dramatic work rather than the action. Koo is capable when need be, and if he's doubled some of the time, he does good enough when he's not and sells the emotion of the scene in the close-ups.

That's important, because this is some dark material, and not just because it rapidly becomes clear that this Lee and Chui are taking more time than getting Wing-chi and Mayor Aziz on adjacent hospital beds would take, so they'd better hop to. Yip and writer Jill Leung Lai-yin pile a ton of guilt and responsibility onto Lee, with often with smaller moments rather than grand melodramatic ones. There's also some interesting playing with a few bigger concepts (notably not having control of one's body), although it's often something floating out there rather than the more immediate concern of putting Lee through a punishing emotional grinder.

It's maybe a little too punishing. The previous "Sha Po Lang"/"Kill Zone" movies leavened their dark storylines with genuinely exhilarating martial-arts action, and the balance is off here. It's still a pretty good crime drama with some fine action, worth catching if it does get an official release in America.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=31996&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/23/18 15:03:01
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Directed by
  Wilson Yip

Written by
  Jill Leung
  Nick Cheuk

Cast
  Louis Koo
  Yue Wu
  Tony Jaa
  Chris Collins



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