Thriller in Thailand
It’s been 14 years since Wilson Yip masterminded one of the best martial arts thrillers of recent times, Kill Zone. Known as Sha Po Lang in the east, Kill Zone aided in propelling the careers of both Yip and its action star, Donnie Yen. Both are of course most famous for the Ip Man series, of which a fourth instalment is due in 2019. After handing the director’s chair to colleague Pou-soi Cheang for the Tony Jaa sequel, Wilson Yip returns to said chair for this latest instalment. Rest assured, Paradox (SPL: Taam Long) is a worthy addition to what is quickly becoming a benchmark Hong Kong franchise.
The Sha Po Lang series isn’t your typical multi-movie affair; Kill Zone 2 featured new characters and storyline, yet retained Wu Jing and Simon Yam to its cast. With Paradox, the same rules applies again. Tony Jaa returns in a minor yet significant ass-kicking role, and Sammo Hung also returns – albeit in the action choreographer role. But the most surprising casting here is that of non-martial artist Louis Koo. What is even more surprising is how well it pays off.
Koo plays Lee Cheung-Chi, a policeman whose daughter goes missing whilst on a trip to Thailand. Having become somewhat estranged by having her boyfriend arrested after her pregnancy announcement, she travels to Thailand in search of a friend. Once informed of her disappearance, Cheung-Chi fears for her safety, regardless of their recent conflict. Teaming up with the local police, it all becomes clear there are bigger forces at work behind the disappearance.
As expected from a Wilson Yip vehicle, there is an impressive visual flair to proceedings, and Yip is quickly becoming a veteran in that regard. Everything is on point here. And while we’re not seeing anything new from Yip or Louis Koo, you know exactly what to expect from them both. And yet, in the face of its beautiful locations Paradox is a lean, mean and surprisingly grim thriller.
Louis Koo is no action star. If Paradox is your first Louis Koo movie, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was, thanks to Sammo Hung’s excellent fight choreography, as he dispatches anyone and everyone in his way quickly and convincingly. Couple that with Koo’s flair for the dramatic, and you’ve got yourself a wonderfully tense affair. Tony Jaa showcases his talents in a critical highlight scene, while Wu Yue puts in an equally ass-kicking shift, as you would expect from both of them. Gordon Lam is on sinister form as the determined mayoral candidate’s assistant.
All of this may well sound like a generic Liam Neeson Hollywood outing. Instead Paradox serves as a shining example of what Hong Kong cinema can still produce. Sammo Hung’s impeccable choreography and Wilson Yip’s brutal, grim and gritty depiction of Pattaya deservedly brings the Sha Po Lang series back into the limelight. Just don’t expect any Hollywood happy ending.