Kill Zone 2’s fights makes you wish that the makers of Marvel and DC movies would take note.
Kill Zone is a 2005 Hong Kong actioner most famous for an incredible alley fight scene and for showcasing the supreme talents of the in-demand Donnie Yen. While Kill Zone 2 is not a sequel in terms of story or characters (not surprising, considering the death toll in the first film), it is very much a follow-up to Kill Zone, matching its predecessor’s balance of neo-noir and frenetic action.
Yen is absent this time around, but Kill Zone 2 is led by two worthy heirs, Tony Jaa (of Ong Bak fame) and Jing Wu (Shaolin, Wolf Warrior). Jaa plays Chatchai, a guard in a Thai prison whose daughter desperately needs a bone marrow transplant. Chatchai’s prison is overseen by unstable warden Ko Hung (Jin Zhang, great in The Grandmaster) who is secretly a player in an organ-trading syndicate run by the evil Mr. Hung (Louis Koo, playing against type). Enter undercover Hong Kong cop Chan Chi-Kit (Jing), who has been working with his uncle (Simon Yam, playing a nearly identical role to the one he played in the original Kill Zone) to take down Mr. Hung’s nefarious organization. Kit ends up in prison under Chatchai’s watch and, as if that weren’t dramatic enough, is also a potential bone marrow donor for Chatchai’s daughter.
That’s only the beginning of an utterly bonkers story (credited to writers Lai-Yin Leung and Ying Wong) that plays out like the incoherent lovechild of Serendipity, Dirty Pretty Things, John Q and The Raid. As you would guess, this isn’t a good thing. The plot, which also features an inexplicable cameo by a CGI wolf, a lengthy subplot involving the trials and tribulations of a lost smartphone, and more scenes in a children’s hospital than Patch Adams, is not the reason to watch Kill Zone 2.
Plot isn’t everything, however. Kill Zone 2 is ably directed by Pou-Soi Cheang (Dog Bit Dog, Shamo), who maintains the shocking level of violence from his earlier work but adds a dose of elegance here. He also employs the talents of several below-the-line masters. Kill Zone 2 is a beautiful film, splitting its time between the darker sides of Hong Kong and Bangkok. Kenny Tse’s cinematography is spot on, evoking the darkness of the characters with shots of the lesser known, neglected corners of its famous settings. Hong Kong’s glitzy, neon-hued skyline has no place here. Kwong Wing Chan (Internal Affairs) has composed a score filled with soaring string pieces, which works surprisingly well when paired with brutal action. And David M. Richardson’s editing is coherent and crafty in spite of the script (apart from lengthy shots of the aforementioned smartphone).
Most importantly, the patient viewer will be rewarded with some of the best fight scenes in recent memory, courtesy of legendary action director Chung Chi Li (Rush Hour 2, Shanghai Noon). Highlights include a brutal airport shoot-out, a wild prison fight, and, most significantly, a final two-on-one battle set on the top floor of a Bangkok skyscraper. Each major character in Kill Zone 2 has a specific fighting style, adding depth to already intricate choreography, and the final standoff between Kit, Chatchai and Ko Hung is a beautifully measured dose of both style and substance. Jaa’s trademark Muay Thai contrasts beautifully with Zhang’s elegant Wushu, while Jing’s dogged, street-smart technique is perfectly matched to his character’s tenacious temperament.
It must be noted that Kill Zone 2 is completely devoid of significant female characters outside of Chatchai’s sick daughter. The fact that this is typical of many Hong Kong action films doesn’t make it forgivable, particularly given the amount of juicy supporting roles that Kill Zone 2 has for men. In addition, an awkward subplot uses a character’s disability for comedic purposes, which is not only offensive but completely out of place in such a dark film.
The sheer artistic and athletic mastery of Kill Zone 2’s fights makes you wish that the makers of Marvel and DC movies would take note. The brutal, deadly and beautiful fighting here thumps the CGI-enabled, low-stakes brawls so popular in today’s superhero fare. Kill Zone 2 tries and fails to compete with other action movies that balance weighty drama with physical battles. But even though it falls short in narrative terms, Kill Zone 2 soars when it stops trying to tug at heartstrings and instead punches in the gut.