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Kill Zone 2 is a ballsy opera of martial-arts glory

Hong Kong’s crime and action films have been likened to opera since before the rise of John Woo, though few recent movies earn that comparison more than Soi Cheang’s delirious and rousing SPL II: A Time For Consequences, which is being distributed here as Kill Zone 2. Mixing martial arts, cops and crooks action, and completely shameless schmaltz, the inventive and perennially underappreciated Cheang (Accident) keeps the movie in a state of exaggerated emotion; it opens with the choral “Lacrimosa” from Mozart’s Requiem and a slow-mo shot tinted arterial red, and rarely lets up from there. Given two staggeringly gifted martial-arts stars—Hong Kong’s Wu Jing and Thailand’s Tony Jaa—and an insane script about bodies being moved, damaged, and commodified that has zilch to do with the 2005 Donnie Yen vehicle SPL (a.k.a. Kill Zone), Cheang builds flourish upon flourish with a ballsiness that recalls Brian De Palma in his prime.

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Wearing a sparse goatee, Wu stars as Kit, a Hong Kong undercover cop who has developed a nasty drug habit while trying to infiltrate a ring of organ traffickers. In a sequence of events too convoluted to get into here, Kit ends up at a squalid prison in Thailand, where the unbelievably dapper warden (stuntman-turned-actor Zhang Jin) is in league with Mr. Hung (Louis Koo, made up like a creepy anime villain), the organ snatchers’ sickly ringleader. Among the prison guards is Chatchai (Jaa, acting for once), a new hire whose daughter has leukemia. There is also some business involving a cellphone; a knife-throwing henchman with shaved eyebrows; and Kit’s uncle and supervisor, Wah (Simon Yam), who is trying to rescue his nephew. The contrived, convoluted, hard-to-summarize plotting comes down to a circuit of bodies being smuggled and mangled, from the toll of police work (e.g., Kit’s addiction) to the black-market organ trade. (There’s a fairy-tale element, too, as the evil Mr. Hung literally needs a heart.)

Cheang, a protégé of genre master Johnnie To, swings for the fences, utilizing acrobatic camera movements, dramatic wide-angle compositions, theatrical lighting, and dazzlingly choreographed fights. Making the most of his stars’ athletic abilities while drawing on his early career in horror, he makes Kill Zone 2’s violence both thrilling and squirm-inducing. Throats get sliced, hands gets stabbed through, bones are broken; these are bodies being weaponized against each other, in other words. The overwrought, go-for-broke mentality sometimes pushes the film toward the soapy and the sickeningly saccharine, but also produces some of the best action scenes in recent memory: a riveting free-for-all shoot-out in the glass corridors of Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal that could teach any Hollywood movie a thing or two about sight lines and intercutting; a prison riot handled like a Broadway ensemble number; and the climax, staged in a massive all-white penthouse, which pushes a movie with no shortage of visual metaphors into stylized abstraction.

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