This sort of an “in name only,” like the kind they often crank out in Bollywood, except Simon Yam almost reprises his hardboiled detective character. In the first S.P.L., he played hard-charging Inspector Chan Kwok-chung, whereas this time around he is steely copper Chan Kwok-wah. They are not same person. In fact, they do not even serve on the same police force, considering the first S.P.L., or Kill Zone as it was renamed for Western territories, took place before the HK handover. Regardless, each Chan is all in favor of taking the fight to the bad guys and he will have two highly trained allies in Soi Cheang’s Kill Zone 2 (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.
This Chan is no less driven than his near namesake, but he is also a man of Christian faith. It is quite upsetting for him to see his nephew Chan Chi-kit hooked on smack, but that is one of the perils of undercover work. Under his uncle’s personal supervision, Chi-kit infiltrated an organ trafficking ring, led by Hung Mun-gong a rich weirdo with a bad ticker and a rare blood type. Despite his misgivings Kwok-wah must leave Chi-kit in the field, because he has finally been assigned to an abduction team. The target will be Hung’s own brother.
Thanks to the intervention of uncle and nephew, the HK police stymy the attempted kidnapping, but Chi-kit’s cover is blown in the process. He will get an up-close-and-personal look at their operation when he comes to in the Thai prison secretly holding the abduction victims waiting to be harvested. Inconveniently, Chi-kit is being housed and treated like a common criminal. However, he will have some dealings with Chatchai, an honest prison guard, whose young daughter desperately needs a bone barrow transplant. The crooked warden Ko Chun might have a potential (involuntary) donor for him, but the cost will be his soul.
It is hard to say which is more extreme, action director Li Chung Chi’s intense martial arts sequences featuring Tony Jaa, Wu Jing (also returning from Kill Zone 1, but in a vastly different role), and Zhang Jin (who had the climatic fight with Zhang Ziyi in The Grandmaster), or the nakedly manipulative subplot involving Chatchai’s cute but sickly daughter Sa. Fortunately, the former are spectacularly cinematic and satisfyingly gritty, because the melodrama of the latter gets pretty cheap. Still, it should be conceded Unda Kunteera Thordchanng is highly charismatic and duly heart-rending as Sa. She is effective, but most viewers will instantly resent the scenes built around her.
Happily, there is a massive prison riot right smack dab in the middle of KZ2, giving Jaa, Wu, and Zhang ample opportunity to demonstrate their skills. Frankly, this could very well be Zhang’s breakout film, albeit in the villainous role of Ko Chun. It is pretty awesome watching him go toe-to-toe with both Jaa and Wu. Of course Yam does his thing as Chan Kwok-wah. He flashes some hardcore badness, but he can also deliver a line like “you must have faith, God wouldn’t toy with us,” without it sounding cheesy. Likewise, Louis Koo manages to pull off the shaggy dog pageboy wig and the mumbling persona of Hung Mun-gong, one of the coldest fish bad guys you can ever hope to see.
The martial arts in Kill Zone 2 are everything you could hope for, whereas the final conclusion is so weirdly misconceived and utterly out of place, it becomes an attraction in itself (one that makes you wonder how to say “wtf” in Thai). Recommended for martial arts connoisseurs and fans of the big name cast (as usual, Yam never disappoints), Kill Zone 2 opens this Friday (5/13) in New York, at the Metrograph.