REVIEW: DVD Release: Kill Zone

Film: Kill Zone
Release date: 8th March 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 88 mins
Director: Wilson Yip
Starring: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Sammo Hung, Jacky Wu
Genre: Action/Martial Arts/Crime
Studio: Cine Asia
Format: DVD & Blu-ray
Country: Hong Kong

With the martial arts talents of Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen, spectacular fight sequences were a given, but Kill Zone doesn’t rest on its laurels.

Simon Yam’s Inspector Chan has devoted his career to putting Mob Boss Po in Prison. When escorting a witness with indisputable evidence of Po's wrong doing to court, his police van is rammed at high speed by a car driven by an assassin. The wreck kills the witness and his wife, but spares the their young daughter. Chan is left with a shard of glass in the back of his head and upon removal, doctors discover a tumour in his brain. The knowledge that he doesn't have long left makes Detective Chan all the more determined to bring down Wong Po.

Having taken responsibility for the victims daughter, in failing health and due to retire soon, Chan goes from a good man with a burning desire to put a bad man behind bars before it’s too late, to a man who’ll do anything to accomplish his goal - legal or not. He can count on loyalty from his small group of officers, but faces opposition from Inspector Ma (Donnie Yen), who has been assigned to take over the unit when Chan retires. Ma seems rigidly by the book, but he too has a dark past...

The central issue of Kill Zone is the transformation of Chan and his men from good men determined to serve justice to villains out for themselves. Sammo Hung’s mob boss acts as an impetus for their descent, but doesn’t force Chan and the others to do anything. At times, it seems that Po is as much narrative mechanism as he is character, in that while he is the reason for Chan’s downward spiral, he is not orchestrating it. Yes, Po is the nominal ‘bad guy’, but how far can the ‘good guy’ go before he crosses that line.

Sammo Hung’s performance as Po is excellent, and couldn’t be more removed from his usual, genial persona. Po is not a pantomime villain, rather he is a dangerous man, determined to hold onto what he‘s got. In that respect, he is all too human.

Without a doubt, though, it’s Simon Yam that makes Kill Zone tick. Inspector Chan is the type of role Yam has specialised in lately, although never with this much depth of character. He is undoubtedly a good man, but at the top of a slippery moral slope. While Chan’s criminal actions will undoubtedly make the world a better place (Po is a vicious murderer, after all), the tragedy is that they won’t just cost Chan’s limited future, but that of his men as well. Chan is so single-minded about his goal that he never comes to realise this, making his moral crusade more of a dark obsession that has to end badly. Yam, a fine performer in even the most mediocre of productions, brings genuine humanity and moral ambiguity to Chan.

Good as Kill Zone is, though, it‘s far from perfect. Donnie Yen, while brilliant in the action scenes, just doesn’t have the acting chops, and seems out of place in such a dark, brooding crime film. Also, while suspension of disbelief should be a given, in a world where beating down a police officer in front of several witnesses, mostly fellow officers, doesn’t land you with a custodial sentence, it’s no wonder the cops have to resort to morally questionable actions.

Although it’s most effective as a dark, gritty crime story, Kill Zone also has a number of top class action scenes that will please fans of the genre. Patience is a virtue, though, as we have to wait fifty minutes or so before the film fully explodes. Until then, there are several ‘teasers’, most of which involving Po liberally dishing out beatings to the police because, as mentioned, he’s beyond reprimand in this version of Hong Kong. The movie’s signature action sequence has to be between Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung, however - a clash of the titans indeed. It’s Donnie Yen’s speed and agility against Hung’s brute strength and power, and it’s one of the most memorable fight scenes committed to film for some time.

Kill Zone is a successful merging of a gritty crime drama and a martial arts movie, and marks a potential transition point for Hong Kong cinema - a grown up martial arts film. We can only hope that others take note and follow suit. PD

1 comment:

  1. sammo hung vs. donnie yen. WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE?!