Sometimes bad titles ruin the potential of otherwise great movies to reach a wide audience who can appreciate the story they have to tell. Kill Zone 2, originally titled Sha Po Lang 2: A Time for Consequences, is nowhere near as mindless and bullet-ridden as its title may initially lead you to believe. It’s also not an adaptation of the popular video game series with a similar name. Kill Zone 2 is a film that could and quite honestly should set the tone for what all action films aspire to be moving forward, and even if it doesn’t accomplish that feat it will still be remembered as one of the wildest and most beautifully shot action epics of modern times.
There are two main plots running through Kill Zone 2, and they both focus on men trying to do the right thing in an impossibly tough situation. Chan Chi-Kit (Wu Jing) is an undercover police officer whose cover is blown while investigating a group thought to be involved in a series of crimes related to black market organ sales. His punishment for being caught is to imprisoned and given the criminal record of a murderer he has never met under the careful watch of a devious warden who is also involved in the organ harvesting business. At the same, a guard in the prison named Chitchai (Tony Jaa) is desperately seeking a man whose bone marrow might save his young daughter’s life. The man he seeks has recently gone missing, and Chitchai is using his free time to carry out an investigation into his disappearance that, unbeknownst to Chitchai, is connected to the nefarious warden – aka – his boss.
As these things tends to go, Chan and Chitchai eventually realized they are both seeking answers from the same criminals and team up to uncover the truth. Their opponent is a dying man desperate for a heart transplant of his own who has recently set his murderous sights on his own brother in hopes of living just a bit longer. His attempts to kidnap his brother and steal his heart are thwarted by the same cops who are beginning to worry about their coworker, Chan, whose recently gone missing. The plot thickens further still when a deal struck to exchange the brother for Chan goes awry, and by the time every thread runs into the others there are far fewer people left standing than when the story first began.
If this all sounds a little confusing that’s because it is, but it’s all woven together so beautifully by Cheang Pou-soi with bursts of incredibly choreographed ultra violence that is as technically impressive as it is visually mind-blowing that you don’t mind doing a little legwork to follow the plot. One scene in particular, involving a prison riot in a very large set piece, goes on for minutes with an endless barrage of punches, kicks, guts, and screams, that play like a perfectly orchestrated ode to all things action. Smartly though, this type of over-the-top action is not the only thing the film has to offer, as the intertwined narratives also deliver numerous dramatic moments that feel earned rather than forced. You root for Chitchai to save his dying daughter, and you flinch when Chan is being tortured. You recognize that these men are fictional characters capable of surviving battles that would kill most humans, but they feel real in the moment thanks to both smart writing and strong performances.
Jing and Jaa, both well-known to any action fan, shine in their roles without ever overshadowing one another. Jaa’s turn as a modest single parent with great emotional duress allows him to showcase a side of himself rarely found in his films up to this point, and it’s mirrored perfectly by the bold confidence of Jing’s turn as Chan. Each actor handles action so well that most would probably be willing to forgive weaker dramatic skills, but there are none to be found. The violence may be excessive, but the performances are perfectly measured, grasping at believability as firmly as they do the throats of their enemies.
It’’s important to note that you don’t need to see SPL: Sha Po Lang to enjoy Kill Zone 2. I didn’t even both to read the Wikipedia description of the first film before diving into its sequel. Whatever connections lie between the two films remains unknown to me, but their presence, if any, in Kill Zone 2 did not distract from the narrative. This is a film that stands on its own, but it definitely leaves the door open for additional films in the future.
Action films don’t need to be anything other than violent in order to please the most loyal genre base, but Kill Zone 2 strives to be something much more and finds success on nearly every front. The action gets your pulse pounding as good as any film could, and the fights are executed with creativity not found anywhere in American cinema, but it’s the story that keeps you engaged with Kill Zone 2 throughout its two-hour runtime. There is real emotion in between battles, and you become invested in the journeys of the two leads as much, if not more, than you are the gratuitous violence you no doubt bought a ticket hoping to see. I never wanted this saga to end, and there is chance it doesn’t have to, but if Kill Zone continues it will be on new ground with fresh ideas we haven’t seen before. That’s the same approach that made this film work so well, and I can only hope we soon see many more like it.