Fantasia Fest Review: KILL ZONE 2

An operatic action extravaganza.

I like a good action movie. I tend to even find joy in bad action movies on occasion. But I’m always out there looking for those great action movies, the ones you can’t wait to tell fellow action fans they must see, the ones they absolutely cannot skip. Kill zone 2 (aka Saat Po Long 2) is one of those films.

If you’re worried about seeing this sequel when you perhaps haven’t seen the first, never fear. This is a sequel in name only. Both films feature Wu Jing and Simon Yam, but even that hardly counts since they are playing different characters. You can definitely watch this one cold.

And you should! Short of all-out masterworks like the Raid movies, this is about as top-tier action filmmaking as you can get. Director Cheang Pou-soi comes up with a wide variety of hard-hitting fights, each with a multitude of insane stunts and super stylized character moments. It’s one of those movies where every movement is choreographed and photographed for maximum impact and energy. 

Pou-soi not only captures these fights with perfection, but also excels at the equally important job of setting them up properly. The moments before the fights are almost as good as the fights themselves, which in turn enriches those fights further. A shackled Tony Jaa doesn’t just shoot off his handcuffs, for instance, he does so in a way that allows his now-weaponized chain to wrap around his wrist in slow-motion just long enough for a whole audience to erupt in cheers.

Most of the fights in this film would be any other film’s signature scene. This film’s signature scene, however, is an extended prison riot in which two different battles are waged on two separate floors amongst the kind of crowded chaos a prison riot provides. Pou-soi’s camera glides up and down, in and out to ensure we see the very best moments of both fights without any edits (or any obvious edits; they may have had some hidden ones in there, but I was too engrossed to notice). The sequence is such a show-stopper, it almost takes away from the perfect execution of the smaller fights, particularly the first big brawl between Tony Jaa, and Wu Jing.

Speaking of Tony Jaa, one of Kill Zone 2’s big surprises is that he’s not really the star of the film. He’s in it a lot, and his plot is very much involved with the overall narrative, but Wu Jing and Simon Yam provide the film’s true protagonists. Jaa spends a lot of time stuck between them and villains Louis Koo and Max Zhang. What might surprise you even further is that Tony Jaa isn’t even this film’s super cool MVP. Max Zhang takes that title as the film’s big sub-villain, an impossibly composed evil warden who is so otherworldly the film grants him wuxia powers.

Normally we grade these films on the strength of their fights, regardless of how awful the story might be. Kill Zone 2 doesn’t need that handicap, however. The plot, which would take me many paragraphs to satisfyingly explain, is emotionally engaging, filled with characters you learn to care about up against adversity that really feels dangerous. These are very heroic heroes dealing with very vicious villains, and part of the reason the fights feel so exciting is that they all come with a good amount of narrative weight.

Seriously, it doesn’t get much better than this for action fans. Kill Zone 2 contains virtually no misstep. It’s awesome, exciting, funny, and even sometimes a little adorable (there’s a kid character who will melt your heart, I swear). If you love action, do not pass it up.

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