I took advantage of a Christmas Amazon gift certificate to fill a few holes in my old Hong Kong movie collection plus make a gesture towards catching up on more recent Hong Kong flicks. I know the Hong Kong movie scene is never going to be quite what it was back in the day, but it’s not like the last decade was a wasteland or anything. I’m behind!

Thus Susan and I watched Sha Po Lang last night. (You’d find it on US video shelves as Kill Zone; despite Miramax’s reputation and the horrendous new title, it’s an unclipped unmangled version.) Simon Yam was the big draw for me, cause I’ve always thought he’s a great Hong Kong character actor, plus it’s got a great rep, plus of course Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen.

So that was a good choice. As heroic bloodshed movies go, it’s not all that heroic, plus it’s more of a martial arts movie than a gunplay movie. It’s coming from the same place as the old John Woo classics, though, just without the moral brightness. The fight scenes are superb, the brutality is sudden and deft, and the personalities are turned up to eleven.

Although, you know, I’m probably doing it an injustice there when I bring up heroic bloodshed. The thing that makes Sha Po Lang really stand out is that the characters are nearly universally dark. Yeah, the propulsive anger that powers the movie is related to Chow Yun Fat’s righteous fury from any number of movies, and the sense of brotherhood is there, but this movie — like Infernal Affairs, to which it owes a great debt — is a deconstruction of the heroic bloodshed myth. Rogue cops are not always forces for good.

Possibly Sammo Hung’s role as a villain — “the first time I’ve done that in twenty-five years” — was also part of that. I’d love to ask Wilson Yip what he had in mind there.

Oh, and if you’re the kind of sad person who won’t go out and rent a movie on my say so, you could always watch this fight scene, which is awesome, but you ought to let the movie build up properly instead of watching it out of context.