Monday, September 19, 2016

Kill Zone 2

   Tony Jaa never fails to impress with his skill and onscreen presence. Kill Zone 2 is no exception. Jaa and costar Jing Wu tear up the screen with ferocity, delivering some fantastic action scenes. For this fact alone, Kill Zone 2 is well worth watching. For anyone who's jonesing for another hit after getting hooked on genre fair like Ong Bak, The Raid, and The Raid 2, Kill Zone 2 will mellow your ass out for a while. Is it actually a good movie though? That... is largely debatable. The more complex the filmmakers make these plots, the more opportunities the movie has to stumble, and Kill Zone 2 has an obstacle course to run.

   The movie went for about 20 minutes, and then snapped into a flashback with no warning or explanation. If not but for the saving grace of context, I would've been so damn lost. The movie hums along, spinning an intricate and often tangled web of deceit, betrayal, and violence. I felt that that the actors deserved a much more straightforward story to work with. There's at least a half dozen inciting incidents in the movie, and really, and one or two would've done just fine.

   There's the diseased crime boss who needs his brother's heart to survive, the prison warden running a human trafficking ring out of his prison, there's the undercover junkie cop (Wu) who's discovered working for the diseased crime boss, and then there's the prison guard (Jaa), with a terminally ill daughter, who's sure his boss is up to no good. I could keep going. This movie has soooo many subplots it's insane. Everything more or less gets resolved in the end, but not gracefully, that's for sure. Having said that, Tony Jaa, Jing Wu, Simon Yam and everyone else all turn in great performances.

   Jaa is incredibly convincing as a father who just wants his daughter to survive. He's undoubtedly the emotional core of the movie, and his acting was solid. Jing Wu is the other emotional anchor in the movie, as the undercover cop who's ended up as a junkie to protect his cover. Things go very bad for him over time and he gets thrown in a Thai prison once his cover is blown. At one point, there's an awesome scene between him and Jaa where they have to communicate using the translator app on Jaa's phone. It's a thoughtful and emotional scene that I didn't expect from this kind of movie. The two actors play off of each other well despite the language barrier. Kudos to them.

   They also compliment each other well in the fight scenes and action set pieces. Unfortunately, this movie just didn't click for me. The plot was messy, despite hints of greatness, and although the fights were impressive and the set pieces were fantastic, the movie as a whole just... wasn't. I liked it, and maybe someday I'd see it again, but it never taps into that gut wrenching violence that made the Raid movies so insane. Which is fine, not every fighting movie needs to be like the raid, but this one was hyped like that. From critics and fans alike, so naturally my expectations were pretty high. Kill Zone 2 is exceptionally serviceable, but I wasn't really feeling it.

   The story is what dragged it down for me. It's meandering in the extreme. Also, they seriously try to draft this complex crime epic, and it's something that a LOT of the movies in this genre try to do, and almost all of them fail. Kill Zone 2 is no exception. The martial arts genre does not easily lend itself to crime epics. Historical epics, yes. Crime epics? No. I'm not saying Hong Kong cinema has never produced decent crime epics, they certainly have. But this specific genre has not. A Better Tomorrow was a decent crime epic, and a fine John Woo movie. But, that's a bullet-fest, not a punch-fest. Martial arts, crime stories, and hong kong cinema are all together a match made in action movie heaven, but simplicity is key here. Minimalist plots, straightforward narratives.

   This movie jerks the viewer back and forth between China and Thailand, text pops up on the screen every time explaining to you where you are and when you are, and it's so fleeting and small, I couldn't keep track. If it wasn't for the context of the setting I would've been so lost. Also, I don't understand why the movie wasn't just told in a linear format. The flashback detour was horribly distracting. Furthermore, this might be one movie that shouldn't have adhered to the show don't tell rule. What could've been gotten out of the way with a few lines of exposition, instead was a further half hour detour that distracts from the main goal.

   Regardless, if you can at least follow the story, you'll be rewarded with some exceptional action set pieces. And, isn't that why we're all here in the first place? The movie is alright, but it's action is fantastic. Give it a look if you're bored. You might enjoy it.

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