The Tony Jaa Revue Hour: Kill Zone 2

960The sequelitis-affronted, relatively lame, stilted title of Kill Zone 2 really does not do Soi Cheang’s inspired storm of a film the justice it deserves. Brandishing an initially worrying surfeit of ephemeral plot, the film actually scurries along with grace and kinetic motion, bucking the overloaded Raid 2 trend of expositing everything to death. Cheang’s film is operatic in scope but limned with B-picture sharpness and a nimble nature worthy of Jet Li if he was actually out for blood. It cannot muster the elegantly streamlined, relentlessly pure giddy alacrity of, say, the epochal The Raid, the golden child for martial arts films in the ‘10s. But, even still, this physical free-for-all threshed with melodrama boasts a bloody, bursting heart and a touch of genuine evil.

Kill Zone 2 certainly hits a vein when it comes to bringing enough blood to go around for everyone, but marrow proves ever elusive for a prison guard played by Tony Jaa. When an undercover cop is double-crossed and sent to the prison Jaa works at, which is secretly a harvesting facility for an underground organ black market, Jaa and the cop (Wu Jing) team up to fight frenzy with fracas. Matched to Jill Leung Lai Yin and Wong Ying’s screenplay which breaks logical rules with maniacal gusto much as the characters shatter bones or smash glass, Cheang’s feverish treatment of the film transcends mere befuddling implausibility into bedeviling delirium. Although less keen on critiquing social convention, his aesthetically succulent style plays with gaudy, rococo color dynamics and oblique angles much like that venerable melodrama conjurer Douglas Sirk: not only to enliven the non-combat proceedings but to engender a mood of over-heated hysterical morality play that is one notch below fairy tale.

Naturally, the sweat here is certainly more physical than in a Sirk melodrama, where every bead was a cry for escape from constraining social pressures and anxieties. Kill Zone 2 is more at home with pummeling you into submission than twisting the oppressive domesticity screw one turn too far. Still, when the going gets good, you wouldn’t want to be up against Kill Zone 2  in any kind of combat. The action is all sinew and nerve-splaying burnt ends. All the fat is cut away by Cheang’s canted camera angles that strike with a serrated edge. As director, he revitalizes the action genre by morphing gunplay and fistfights into an aesthetic plunge, ricocheting around the forgotten corner of style to turn the film into a conduit for overdriven pop delirium.

And it only heats up over time, mounting a sustained charge from acrobatic but relatively grounded kinesis to a formal abstraction that kindles figurative dance routines out of bone-crunching mayhem. Early on, a boat terminal ruckus recalls the hot-headed delight of John Woo’s old haunts from the ‘90s, where the stylized, caricatural human gesticulations boastfully suggest emotions that cannot be contained by men on the edge of rage. The style is fried but classical, emphasizing spatial sanity and staccato, continuity editing.

From there, though, nothing is off the table. A mid-film prison riot is choreographed like a Busby Berkeley number as the characters marshal the inertia and movement of the human form into shields and instruments of destruction alike. The camera invades personal space and the film even trespasses on the realm of the comic, giving the scene an absurdist kick by having one of the protagonists scrounging around for cell phone service during the grungy mire gorgeously shot with the rhythm of impulsive motion and steadfast stillness. This camera knows not only how to move but, in a rare action movie bid, when to linger.  All the while, the dapper prison warden maintains a classically sophisticated visage with splendid sangfroid amidst the morass of mayhem around him, stopping to fix any scuffs in his suit in one of the many rictus-grin irregularities and incongruities the film furnishes.

As if that wasn’t enough, the film shoots for the fences for a final beat-down in an all-white-penthouse that is a classic of the genre, an exegesis on human movement and background color that dims the lights to a noirish monochrome and then floods the space in a maelstrom of light for a two-on-one climax for the ages. It’s probably the platonic ideal of “you know if you’ll like it before going in”, but if this kind of film is your bag, here’s a hurricane that’ll rip the bag to shreds.

Score: 8/10

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