Saat po long Review
Infernal Affairs was probably the pinnacle of the East Asian cop drama, one of the best police tales that we have ever seen in the world (or probably ever will see, begging the question: why is Hollywood remaking it?) but Asian cinema does not seem content there, each subsequent year churning out another solid effort, whether it be an Infernal Affairs sequel, or a new variation like Divergence. SPL sees one of the first major lead part for Donnie Yen (following his excellent effort in the wire-fu epic Seven Swords), in the fairly unusual role (at least for him) of a maverick police detective.
Inspector Chan is desperate to see Triad boss Wong Po behind bars, but after the death of a witness and the news that he has a potentially fatal brain tumour, Chan renews his vow to take down Wong, no matter what the cost. After three years of hard work, however, it becomes clear that he needs some new, young blood to inject the case with fresh energy. Enter the too-cool-for-school Ma, a maverick detective who jumps at the challenge of taking down the big boss.
As time progresses, Ma becomes increasingly aware of Chan's obsession with taking down Wong, getting worried about the unit Chan set up who are prepared to go to any lengths - including 'suiciding' witnesses themselves - to get the big man himself. After an elaborate frame, the line between good and bad gets most definitely blurred and Wong's main assassin, a man dressed in white who wields a rather sharp blade comes out of the shadows to start cleaning house. It is soon left upon Ma's shoulders to turn against his own unit or take down Wong once and for all.
The name SPL is a reference to the three main characters in the movie and, as such, they picked three superb leads to carry the proceedings. Sammo Hung is remarkably good as the main bad guy, the boss Wong Po. Not only does he look quite imposing in the part, but he manages to shrug all of his more comedic prior antics in this fairly serious role - and also get in a little bit of martial arts action too (I bet fans have been eagerly awaiting a standoff between him and Donnie Yen and here we get not one but two). The lead detective, Inspector Chan, is played by Simon Yen, who has had a couple of Hollywood crossover roles recently, starring opposite both Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme in their latest direct-to-video endeavours, which weren't actually that bad. Here he is well chosen to carry off the driven-to-obsession man who will stop at nothing to get his target.
Then there's the great Donnie Yen, oozing flair and style whilst still managing to show off his supreme martial arts skills. As I stated, he's only recently had the opportunity to take the lead in productions and it is well past time - he deserves so many good roles and I am glad that he is finally getting them. He carries off this police detective role well, looking as natural with a gun as he does with his fists out (and looking particularly cool when reloading his revolver super-slickly). For martial arts fans, you should note that he was the fight choreographer and the fights that there are (a couple spaced through the movie and then two major climactic battles at the end, including one great Donnie Yen police baton vs. sword fight) are amongst the best that I have ever seen.
So, is there a downside to this superior police thriller with a decent storyline, superb performances, solid gunfights and outstanding martial arts battles? Well, much as I hate to say it, I was slightly disappointed by the surprise ending. It is not that it comes as a surprise, it is more that it is far too contrived for words - trust me, it is so unbelievable that it will almost certainly leave you more amused than satisfied as the credits roll. Aside from this unnecessary layering of twists over the final few minutes, the movie is generally excellent and well worth your time.