Hong Kong/China, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 100 mins.
Director: Ye Weixin 叶伟信 [Wilson Yip].
Standard Hong Kong crime pulp, lifted by no-nonsense staging, some explosive action and a decent lead.
Hong Kong, the present day. Widowed police detective Li Zhongzhi (Gu Tianle) is shocked when his beloved teenage daughter Li Yongzhi (Chen Hanna) announces she’s pregnant and wants to marry her boyfriend Henry, a fellow student. Some time later she goes on holiday to Pattaya city, Thailand, where she is kidnapped after a few days. Jenny, a Hong Kong friend who works there, alerts Li Zhongzhi who immediately flies in and tells the local police, led by Chinese Thai Cui Jie (Wu Yue), that he wants to help in the investigation. (Li Zhongzhi had actually had his daughter’s boyfriend arrested for sex with a minor, and Li Yongzhi’s real reason for going to Thailand was to have an abortion.) Cui Wei, who has his own worries with his heavily pregnant wife, reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile, Pattaya’s mayor, Aziz, who is standing for re-election, has had a heart attack and urgently needs a heart transplant; the news is hushed up by his aide, Chinese Thai Zheng Hanshou (Lin Jiadong), who also pressures the police chief (Vithaya Pansringarm) to soft-peddle the investigation into Li Yongzhi’s case. Finally, an aggrieved Chinese prostitute, Zhou Tingting (Cai Jie), tells Li Zhongzhi that she saw his daughter being abducted by a corrupt local cop, Bin (Lu Huiguang). Li Zhongzhi sets out on his own to get justice – and, along with Cui Jie, uncovers a web of high-level corruption.
An old-style slice of Hong Kong crime pulp, with a police detective trying to find his kidnapped daughter in Thailand, Paradox 杀破狼 贪狼 is lifted above the norm by three things: taut, no-nonsense direction by Ye Weixin 叶伟信 [Wilson Yip], some explosive action staged by veteran Hong Jinbao 洪金宝 [Sammo Hung] and, most surprising of all, a decent performance by actor Gu Tianle 古天乐 [Louis Koo] as the indestructible, vengeful dad. Though the film’s Chinese title positions it as the third entry in the so-called “SPL” series (SPL 杀破狼, 2005; SPL2: A Time for Consequences 杀破狼II, 2015), the English one is just meaningless. After the messy (but high-grossing) SPL2, directed by Zheng Baorui 郑保瑞 [Soi Cheang] and released in 3-D in the Mainland, original director Ye and action choreographer Hong have both re-taken the reins, with notably beneficial results. In two weeks this third SPL has already earned some RMB480 million in the Mainland, not far from SPL2‘s robust RMB560 million.
The SPL series is actually a very loose one, linked not by any continuing story or characters but more by a down-and-dirty approach to the often very violent action and a loose assembly of talent that comes and goes, including Ye, Hong and action names like Zhen Zidan 甄子丹 [Donnie Yen], China’s Wu Jing 吴京, Thailand’s Tony Jaa and Thai Chinese action veteran Lu Huiguang 卢惠光 [Ken Lo]. “SPL” stands for shā pò láng 杀破狼, an abbreviation for three star signs in Chinese astrology that denote killing/power, conquest/destruction and greed/lust, the last symbolised by a wolf. The animal, whose name has been adopted as a brand by Wu (who guested in the first two SPLs), is emphasised on the film’s Mainland poster, with its ferocious qualities stressed more than its greed/lust.
In line with the series’ no-holds-barred characters and action, Gu’s Hong Kong cop is like a wounded beast, relentlessly pushing down doors in sweltering, touristy Pattaya as he hunts for the teenage daughter he was too quick to judge. The actor’s wooden, perma-tan looks and eerily focused gaze fit the role to a T and, thanks to some reported action training with Hong, he’s convincing in the physical stuff, helped along by the usual clever editing and use of doubles. Like most characters in the SPL series, Gu’s cop is on his own personal road to hell, with little to lose by the end; the audience is never emotionally engaged in that journey but is at least carried along by its single-mindedness. That’s thanks not to the script – another piece of generic, choppy writing by Hong Kong’s Liang Liyan 梁礼彦 [Jill Leung], though thankfully much leaner than her over-plotted SPL2 – but by Ye’s focused direction, which still finds time for moments of total stillness amid all the mayhem, and by Hong’s tight, explosive action, at its best in confined spaces.
The action highlight comes midway, with guest star Jaa in a knockout chase/fight sequence vs US marine-turned-martial arts trainer Chris Collins, as the laowai villain. Collins, who played one of the foreign mercenaries in Wolf Warrior (2015), is very good as the leeringly unrepentant organ trafficker, and his standoffs with both Jaa and Mainland actor Wu Yue 吴樾 (as the local cop in charge) are memorable. The agile rooftop antics by Jaa, now 41, are a sad reminder of what action cinema has lost by his recent absence from leading roles.
The back-of-a-coaster plot has problems properly integrating its political conspiracy strand with the kidnapping one, though Hong Kong’s Lin Jiadong 林家栋 [Gordon Lam], playing a corrupt mayoral aide, and Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm (The White Storm 扫毒, 2013; Operation Mekong 湄公河行动, 2016) give it their best shots. In a very male movie, Mainland-born Cai Jie 蔡洁 (the killer’s self-serving girlfriend in Port of Call 踏血寻梅, 2015; the jealous rival in My Wife Is a Superstar 我老婆係明星, 2016) brings some heft to the role of a Chinese street whore who helps Gu’s cop, while Singapore’s Zheng Xue’er 郑雪儿 [Michelle Saram] pops up briefly in flashback as the cop’s late wife.
Technically Paradox is a smooth ride, thanks to the top-class Hong Kong crew (similar to SPL2‘s) and especially to the steely, grey-blue look by d.p. Xie Zhongdao 谢忠道 [Kenny Tse] (The Viral Factor 逆战, 2012) that takes the tourism out of Pattaya. The Chinese title means “SPL: Greedy Wolf(ves)”.
Presented by Sil-Metropole Organisation (HK), Sun Entertainment Films (HK), Bona Film Group (CN), Shanghai Alibaba Pictures (CN), Sunny Side Up (Never) (HK).
Script: Liang Liyan [Jill Leung], Zhuo Yiqian. Photography: Xie Zhongdao [Kenny Tse]. Editing: Huang Hai. Music: Chen Guangrong [Comfort Chan], Chen Jiaye. Production design: Mai Guoqiang [Kenneth Mak]. Art direction: Zhou Shihong. Costume design: Ye Jiayin. Styling: Yu Jia’an [Bruce Yu]. Action: Hong Jinbao [Sammo Hung]. Visual effects: Free-D Workshop.
Cast: Gu Tianle [Louis Koo] (Li Zhongzhi), Wu Yue (Cui Jie, Pattaya police chief), Lin Jiadong [Gordon Lam] (Zheng Hanshou), Chris Collins (Sasha), Tony Jaa (De/Tak, Pattaya policeman), Cai Jie (Zhou Tingting), Lu Huiguang [Ken Lo] (Bin/Ban, Pattaya policeman), Chen Hanna (Li Yongzhi, Li Zhongzhi’s daughter), Zheng Xue’er [Michelle Saram] (Li Zhongzhi’s wife), Vithaya Pansringarm (police chief), Sompob Benjathikul (Aziz, mayor), Sirapan Wattanajinda (Cui Jie’s wife).
Premiere: Hong Kong Cine Fan Summer Film Festival (Opening Film), 15 Aug 2017.
Release: Hong Kong, 25 Aug 2017; China, 17 Aug 2017.