May 27, 2005


SHA PO LANGEveryone's buzzing about SHA PO LANG, the Wilson Yip-directed Donnie Yen/Simon Yam/Wu Jing/Sammo Hung action film from Hong Kong. It's getting bought and sold, it won't be released in theaters until later this year, the stills look hot, the trailer rocks, the print caught on fire at Cannes but we've all been hurt before. So the question is: is it any good?

Yeah, it's pretty good. This is my favorite Hong Kong movie of 2005 so far, and it delivers on everything it promises, but it doesn't do it the way you're expecting. The first half of the movie feels like Johnnie To's THE LONGEST NITE: dark and dank, claustrophobic corrupt cop action. Things get coiled tighter and tighter until the hand-to-hand action begins to erupt in the final third like a lanced boil, leaving walls, ceilings and floors coated in swathes of black blood and littered with broken arms.

Things get jumping with a man-to-man grudge match getting established between cop, Simon Yam, and triad boss, Sammo Hung, many years in the past. Both actors use their first few minutes to put the bits in their mouthes and just go, working themselves up into great performances. Simon Yam can give a good performance in his sleep, but Sammo delivers the best acting I've ever seen him do. He looks like he just wandered over from the set of HBO's OZ - he's a mass of knotted muscles covered with jailhouse tats, looking like a mobile, pissed off refrigerator.

The movie jumps forward to the present, and proceeds to unfold over Father's Day night. Uh-oh, it's symbolism! Of course there is - it's a Wilson Yip movie. Yam's retiring and he wants to take down Sammo before he goes. His squad is being taken over by Donnie Yen, but that happens in the morning. Right now, he's got one long night to settle scores. I don't want to give too much away, because it's a fun movie, but expect Wilson Yip at his finest.

Director Yip has never met an ending that he couldn't ruin and, to my mind, only BIO-ZOMBIE has a decent finale. But SHA PO LANG gets to stand next to it as a movie that holds up well all the way through. Being a Wilson Yip film there's plenty of off-kilter characterization and little digressions, some of which border on the cutesy, but he never crosses the line so far that he can't come right back. It's the his most controlled, best-sustained movie to date.

Donnie Yen, despite a few weird little Donnie Yen poses, actually acts for the first time ever. He turns in a performance! And it's a good one! Usually I feel that Yen is always thinking about how he'll look in the frame, and he seems to be projecting a pose more than he's inhabiting a character, but he actually manages to act in SPL, and I was pleasantly surprised. I take back all the mean things I ever said about him.

The stand-outs here are Sammo Hung, however, who turns out to be the movie's dark heart, and Wu Jing. Playing a hired hitman with a Kid N Play haircut and with about one line of dialogue, Wu Jing does it all with his body and turns in a gonzo performance. Camera tricks and "cool" action get left in the wastebasket and Wu Jing is allowed to deliver his stuff, piping hot and as fast as he can. And that's fast. The fight between he and Donnie Yen doesn't look like anything I've ever seen before: they made a lot of it up as they went along and it's full of mistakes, missed blows, and a lot of strategy. It's interesting to see two people fighting and thinking about what they're going to do next - I would never have noticed there was a difference between that and delivering choreography before, but now that I've seen what "real" fighting looks like, I want to see more. There's something alive and calculating in their eyes that felt brand new.

Is SHA PO LANG the second coming? No, but it's the best action movie to come out of Hong Kong in a long time, and it's okay to get excited about it. You wouldn't be burned.

May 27, 2005 at 08:15 AM in Film Reviews | Permalink


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Tracked on May 27, 2005 11:10:47 AM


I'd like to know where you saw this film if you dont mind me asking?

Posted by: DARREN | May 27, 2005 9:01:26 AM

Normally Sammo + Donnie = immediate buy, but I'm actually going to preorder this now. Donnie Yen, actually acting rather than just being a smug badass? You've got to be joking.

Posted by: Henry Shieh | May 28, 2005 1:11:33 AM

i'm totally looking forward to Sha Po Lang. i love seeing Donnie as a cop figure. of course, because Sammo's in it also, that's another reason that i really wanna' watch it.
yes, Donnie hasn't been playing many "good guy" parts lately, so that should be good.

Posted by: Ray | May 28, 2005 4:54:00 AM

You were at Cannes? How did Sha Po Lang fare at Cannes? Care to do a detailed writeup on it?

Posted by: Dorp | May 28, 2005 8:32:46 AM

Very good review! I was just wondering what the Running Time of SPL is? Also, how long would you say both the Donnie Yen/Wu Jing and Yen/Sammo Hung fights are?

Thank you!!!

Posted by: Doug | May 28, 2005 9:26:20 PM

Very good review! I was just wondering what the Running Time of SPL is? Also, how long would you say both the Donnie Yen/Wu Jing and Yen/Sammo Hung fights are?

Thank you!!!

Posted by: Doug | May 28, 2005 9:26:20 PM

Why no mention of the Sammo/Donnie fight?Does Sammo still have....some moves left?I hope this is a decent role for Sammo,he hasn't been doing too great lately.

Posted by: Bradley | May 29, 2005 11:35:40 AM

About The Longest Nite: despite To's involvement, I always thought it was fully Patrick Yau's movie. A minor thought, but Yau is so underrated it's always nice to see him get credit, especially on his best movie.

Posted by: Breault | Jun 1, 2005 9:16:48 AM

Well, I like to think of LONGEST NITE as Patrick Yau's movie as well, but I'm trying to cozy up to the Johnnie To folks these days, and they say it was mostly Johnnie, so I'll sing their song and please throw a penny in my cup - I'm dancing as hard as I can.

I saw the movie at the HK Filmart and was just saving the review for a rainy day.

The Sammo/Donnie fight is great, but very old school. The action is all sort of concentrated near the end of the movie, so you come right out of the breath-taking Wu Jing/Donnie Yen fight and go immediately into the Sammo/Donnie fight and it's hard to get too worked up about it. Sammo has either found a very good stunt double, or he's in very good shape these days because from what I saw he's taking hi-impact falls, flinging his big ol' brawn around, and doing so hard kicks and mean leg slaps like he was a man twenty years younger.

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | Jun 6, 2005 6:01:53 PM

Grady, I've got a few questions about SPL if you've got the time.

1)how would you rate this film amongst donnie's best?

2)Is it better than Ong bak (fight scene wise)?

3)Is the Wu Jing/Donnie fight hand to hand?

4)how long are the Donnie/Wu Jing and Yen/Sammo fights?

Posted by: Darren | Jun 7, 2005 12:04:05 PM

Oh well, would've liked an in depth description on the fight scenes, with comparison to other films in your review. I'm pretty sure thats what everyone wanted.

Posted by: darren | Jun 16, 2005 3:06:53 PM

Can't wait to see Donnie Yen fight Wu Jing AND Sammo Hung. Those 3 actors are my favorite martial artists and it's been quite a while seen I have seen a real good kungfu movie. Unleashed has excellent fight scenes in it but not enough to sate my thirst. Donnie Yen was so terrily wasted in Blade 2, it's a shame. It is as if the director was afraid Donnie would outshine Wesley Snipes so he didn't give him any real fight.
The last Wu Jing's movie I have seen is Drunken monkey, and that one didn't really deliver. I am a big admirer of Liu Chia Liang's work but Drunken monkey's fights I find unsatisfying. And Sammo Hung, can't remember the last films in recent years in which he actually had a good fight.

I have always thought "Jesus, when will I get to see a real dirty, gritty martial arts flick without all the frustrating tight editings, close-up shots aimed for an audience mainly comprised of teenagers suffering from extreme attention-deficit disorder ?"
I know it's impossible to ask for the kind of choregraphies mr. Liu Chia Liang delivered in his finest films (nowadays, nobody is doing old-school kungfu anymore, with the exception of Drunken monkey, but that one is not going to change the course of things), but if I am going to watch modern fighting I want get what I got in Tiger Cage 2, Legend of the wolf and Ong Bak.

Enough ranting. I'd like to know, if it's possible for you to reveal, how long is the Donnie Yen/Wu Jing fight ? And the one between Donnie and Sammo? You see, I have got this thing about long fighting sequences. The longer, the better.

Posted by: CroakerBC | Jun 29, 2005 11:31:12 PM

SPL trailer sucks!!! It's a very disappointed flick.
The drama and the script should be better that Ong-bak but the action sequences can not reach the Ong-bak standard. Besides, it's not fair to compare SPL with Ong-bak, since, SPL just got inspiration from Ong-bak. To be fair, you should compare between SPL and Tom Yum Goong (TYG). I saw both trailers and if I have to just from the trailers TYG is 1000 times better than SPL. TYG is like 3 times more budget than SPL.

Posted by: ez_matt | Jul 21, 2005 4:14:06 AM

ez_matt when you say its dissapointing, are you talking about the trailer or the entire flick?... If you're judging SPL based on the trailer, you're an idiot.

Posted by: darren | Jul 22, 2005 8:05:54 AM

What I find funny is that fact that you've given SPL the worst review in comparison to everyone else.

This film is a lot better than Ong Bak in every sense.

Posted by: gold | Sep 21, 2005 9:00:11 AM

i saw the whole movie....in short,,,cool fast slick fight n surprise storyline,,been too long to see good hk film like this one.

Posted by: backflickkick | Nov 29, 2005 8:17:19 AM

I still have trouble grasping what the big deal is about Ong Bak. It was like a 90 demo reel..I actually got bored...and I'm not nearly as picky with my MA flicks as a lot of people. o.O

After having seen SPL now, I tend to agree with Grady's review, though on Donnie Yen's acting..I don't know. There was something about that just didn't mesh for me. Seemed too something in a lot of places to merit the responses that come from him in the film. Mebbe it's just me.

Wu Jing in this was wowing- particularly since his role had only one, two lines of dialogue and the rest had to come through physically.

And Sammo's Po just barely got enough screen time in my opinion. But it prolly would have slowed the film down- I like how the pace picks up when all the players are on the proverbial board.

Posted by: Chelle | Dec 1, 2005 5:14:26 AM

This is one of the most enjoyable HK cop/MA/action movie I've seen in recent years. Lots of tense standoffs, conspiracy, trickery and of course, realistic fighting scenes.

For those who know MA, you'll see a refreshing blend of standup and ground fighting scenes similar to some of the NHB or UFC bouts. No mumbo-jumbo wires & slow-mo.


Posted by: Charles | Dec 5, 2005 12:01:53 PM

Simply awesome
I agree with Charles the is a lot of cool MMA action in the fight lots of grappling,the weapons fight was sublime some elements of everything in that scene!
I love this film so much. For years I felt Koreans and Japanese movies were over taking the once great Hong Kong Film industry and also the fact hollywood have been using hong kong fight choregraphers for their movies. THIS MOVIE RAISES THE BAR. The Hong Kong action film is back!

Posted by: Kit | Dec 9, 2005 2:42:11 AM

What is the weapon that Donnie used to fight Wu Jing in that movie? What is it called? Nightstick? Let me know. Thanks.

Posted by: Darren | Dec 25, 2005 1:13:15 AM

To Darren:

The weapon used by Donnie in his fight with Wu Jing is an extendable baton commonly used by the Hong Kong Police.

Posted by: Francis | Jan 15, 2006 8:26:36 PM

it's the first movie i watch dis year (during new year)i respct to da script writer and oso the director.solute u all

Posted by: neurox | Feb 26, 2006 8:32:50 PM

its sumthing new. my fren told me dat weapons has been sold here. wow, i thought it was famous already...

Posted by: neurox | Feb 26, 2006 8:35:39 PM

good movie, wish donnie yen had done some more movies. dont really care about his acting as long as he performs his martial arts. i enjoy his style more than that of jackie chan or jet li. theres just something about his style.

Posted by: zack | Jul 6, 2006 12:38:57 AM

this movie sucks, from all the reviews I read, I thought the fight scenes should be long and hardcord, but it was short, the fight between donnie and jacky wu lasted about about 2 minutes, and less than 5 minutes for sammo vs donnie. Besides from the lenght of each fight, it was also badly choreograph, there was no cool moves being preform

Posted by: jackie chan | Sep 12, 2006 2:43:00 PM

The movie was awful. Totally agree with Zack. But the knife vs baton scene was definintely one of the hottest fights recorded.

Good plot, but bad execution, bad development, even worse ending.

Posted by: eayoshi | Jan 19, 2007 8:14:31 PM

sorry, meant totally agree with jackie chan!

Posted by: eayoshi | Jan 19, 2007 8:15:17 PM

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