The Shapolang Defense

Okay, this is a spur of the moment entry. I have been a lurker on the Mobius Home Video Forum (Asian Cinema) for quite some time now and enjoyed reading many of the very well informed posts there. I am a lurker not because of anything but because my application for membership fell on silent ears and I will have to assume that membership for that forum is really for the top class elite in Asian Cinema only.

This is not really a problem as I did not plan to post anything there because those people (or most of them) are really, really good and there is really no need for my two cents to be made known there. After all, I have my geeky friend who is a regular in the forum and made many interesting and well informed/researched posts there.

However, I feel that I have to somewhat defend “Sha Po Lang (SPL)” against a post there since I have made SPL my number 2 movie in the 2005 Hong Kong movie list. I am surely not as good and as well informed as that guy but well, let’s see if I can defend myself in my decision.

[NOTE: WHAT FOLLOWS CONTAIN SPOILERS. DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED THIS MOVIE AND INTEND TO WATCH IT UNSPOILED]

Here’s the quote from the post:

“I just got finished watching this Hong Kong film. The buzz behind this film has been tremendous for the past year so imagine my surprise when it turns out to be just a routine cop drama with one decent fight (Donnie Yen vs. Sammo Hung). Good but not great. People are calling this an amazing return to the HK cinema of yesteryear when it is far from that. Have they ever seen a HK film before this? Or is it like having your mom tell you how amazing the martial arts in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON are. Seriously, we’ve been down this road and it has been better many times before. A lot better.”

Let’s take this one at a time:

“Routine cop drama”

Now, we will have to define this phrase. What is a routine cop drama? A few cops whom we cannot be 100% sure if they are good or bad?

We feel that they are good, because 1) they want to put to rest the triad king whom they know is a menace to society, 2) they have strong feelings (“yi hei” – a highly prized personal trait in Chinese culture) for their boss (Simon Yam) who is suffering from a terminal illness and is taking personal care of the daughter of the witness that got murdered by the triad king en route to court to witness against him, 3) they love their family and display strong filial emotions between father-daughter, father-son.

We feel that they are bad, because 1) they want to take down the triad king not purely because he is a menace to society but also to get even with him personally, sort of like a personal revenge, 2) they break the law and attempt to frame the triad king by altering evidence and stealing from the triad king himself for their own ends (the “end” itself is unselfish by the way – so we have again the good-evil dilemma), not really to benefit society in any ways. In short, point 1 and 2 above are the same, they are selfish people, abusing their power for personal ends and thus betraying the trust placed upon them.

Also, to take this a bit further, Sammo Hung’s character (the triad king) is also not entirely bad either. There is also good in him, which was very well portrayed in the movie, via Sammo’s superb acting and the director’s good judgment. So, black and white is not entirely clear again.

Now, how is this a routine cop drama? I may not have been watching too many cop movies but I have watched enough to know that this is not your routine cop drama. Routine cop dramas have a very clear line between good and evil and the cops win. In this case, all the cops, except Simon Yam, dies in action. Simon Yam dies of his illness. ALL DIES! and Sammo Hung LIVES! (although he suffers in another way). And the way the story was told, the audience (at least me), felt that, yeah, this is the way the movie should end. So how is this your routine cop drama?

“with one decent fight (Donnie Yen vs. Sammo Hung)”

Now, I may be mistaken but I thoroughly enjoyed the fight between Donnie Yen and Wu Jing. It was such a superb display of martial art! Well, if this is not “decent fight”, I don’t know what is.

“Good but not great”

He was referring to the fight between Donnie and Sammo? When was the last time you see Chinese wrestling techniques being employed and shot in such a beautiful and artful way as was in this fight? It was GREAT!

On top of that, we experienced great cinematography, great acting from the entire main cast AND key supporting cast and more importantly, it has that kick, a certain edginess that I really admire. How do I define this sense of “edginess”? I really can’t. I can just feel it. Like how I feel a certain performance of Mahler’s fifth symphony being more edgy compared to the rest.

“has been better many times before”

Wow, how long ago was this “before” exactly? I don’t recall watching any “action-martial” movie from Hong Kong, at least in the past two or three years, that impressed me this much.

I hope I have made my point and justified myself in putting SPL in the number 2 spot in my list of 2005 Hong Kong movies.

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