Film bits and bobs
Review of film that formed part of the ‘0th’ Edition of the London East Asian Film Festival (LEAFF 2015)
Chan Chi-kit (Wu Jing) has been playing the junkie to help get close an international organ-trafficking cartel – but after an assignment goes wrong, the undercover Hong Kong cop finds himself going cold turkey in a Bangkok prison. There Chi-kit is watched closely by both corrupt warden Ko Chun (Zhang Jin) and decent local rookie guard Chatchai (Tony Jaa). The latter is trying to trace a missing man whose bone marrow is a perfect match for his 8-year-old leukaemic daughter Sai (Unda Kunteera Yhordchanng), without realising either that Chi-kit is in fact the compatible donor, or that Ko is using the prison for illegal organ transplants. Meanwhile back in Hong Kong, Ko’s ruthless boss Hung Mun-gong (Louis Koo) is in need of a new heart for himself, and hopes to take that of his brother Mun-biu (Jun Kung) whether he likes it or not – even if Chi-kit’s fellow police detective (and uncle) Chan Kwok-wah (Simon Yam) keeps crossing Mun-gong’s path as he attempts to locate and rescue his nephew.
“The world is full of miracles!”, Chatchai declares to Sai. Certainly SPL2 – A Time For Consequences is propelled along by miraculous coincidences, making every character’s fate seem tightly interwoven. It is an effect only enhanced by the film’s opening, in which flashbacks and flashforwards fracture the ensemble’s narrative chronology to show all the main players caught in their different predicaments. Despite its title, SPL2 – A Time For Consequences is a sequel in name only to Yip Wai-shun’s Hong Kong actioner SPL (2005). Directed this time around by Cheang Pou-soi, it tells an unrelated story, with Simon Yam and Wu Jing reappearing to play entirely different rôles. Yet the meaning of the original film’s title – in Chinese astrology Sha Po Lang is the collective term for three stars that can symbolise good or evil depending on their celestial orientation – is discernibly carried over here, as we watch all the main players caught in moral dilemmas that could leave them going either way, whether Chatchai’s uncertain loyalty towards Ko, Kwok-wah’s desperate choice to take the law into his own hands, Chi-kit’s struggle with drugs (and his later decision to go back for Chatchai), and Mun-gong’s ethical ambivalence towards his own brother. “I don’t think God will toy with us,” Kwok-wah says (twice) before going into action – and there is the sense that there are karmic forces and divine consequences at work in this complicated criss-crossing of plots, as bad deeds are ultimately punished and good rewarded.
Much is made here too of the invisible connections between characters who would normally never come together. Chi-kit and Chatchai are able to understand each other only through the global translation app that Sai has installed in Chatchai’s smartphone, while a young Chinese-speaking fisherman with Down’s syndrome finds that he can communicate clearly with Thai-speaking Sai via the universal language of emoticons. And Chi-kit and Chatchai, though at first enemies with very different provenances and backgrounds, will end up fighting alongside each other as brothers far more closely bonded than Mun-gong and Mun-biu. So whereas its plot focuses on the illegal trade in organ transplants, SPL 2 – A Time For Consequences offsets this with more salubrious kinds of interpersonal compatibility and cultural exchange.
Ultimately, though, for all its heartfelt pathos and even body horror, SPL2 – A Time For Consequences is a film of action – and whether it is Mun-gong’s knife-wielding assassin Ah-zai (Zhang Chi) acrobatically taking out a stairwell of policeman, or Chi-kit and Chatchai confronting a whole floor of henchman, Cheang’s film kicks ass with the best of them. There is even a spectacularly dizzying single take, reminiscent of a similarly long take in the earlier Jaa vehicle Warrior King (2005), in which the camera swoops and cranes across multiple levels of a cell block as Chi-kit struggles to get a phone signal – in the middle of a violent prison riot. That viewers are much more easily able to follow the thread and get the signal in so convoluted a narrative is nothing short of a miracle.