Paradox (Sha po lang: taam long)
Hong Kong (2017) Dir. Wilson Yip
Kids. Who’d have them, eh? You bring them into the world, give them everything, teach them everything and they repay by going missing in a foreign country and exposes a criminal operation with huge political implications. That is what drives this final entry in the unofficial “in name only” SPL trilogy from Wilson Yip.
Lee Chung-Chi (Louis Koo) struggles to accept his 16 year-old daughter Wing-Chi (Hanna Chan) is growing up, having her boyfriend arrested for sleeping with her as a minor. In response, Wing-Chi takes off to Thailand to visit a friend but two days into the trip, she disappears forcing Chung-chi to head out to find her, with Thai based Chinese cop Chui Kit (Wu Yue) taking on the case.
Meanwhile Bangkok’s Mayor Azis (Sompob Benjathikul) is in the middle of an election campaign when he is taken ill, needing a heart transplant, which his party don’t want anyone finding out about. So, his assistant Cheng Hon-sau (Gordon Lam) employ the services of a criminal gang dealing in illegal organ trafficking.
With the first SPL film renamed Flashpoint here in the West and the second Killzone, neither of which had much to do with the stories, Paradox at least follows suit in that respect. Wilson Yip directed the first film but only assumed the role of producer for the second, so having him back for this film presumably was his way of denoting that this loose franchise was shutting up shop.
Ostensibly a 99-minute sprint, Paradox is classic Hong Kong action thriller fare, with violence, mystery, corruption and a touch of Asian misogyny towards female characters – basically everything you could ask for from the genre. The switching of location from Hong Kong to Thailand doesn’t quite offer that much of a change of scenery, partly because of the high Chinese presence, and partly with setting being local to Bangkok, which could pass as Hong Kong, especially at night.
Chung-Chi is a highly-strung cop but loving father, perhaps too protective towards his daughter after raising her alone following the death of his wife in a car accident. Unable to let her grow up and not be the adorable little girl she is in his memories, Chung-Chi reaches that awkward stage of pushing Wing-Chi away rather than keeping her close.
The fact his last memory of Wing-Chi is their falling out eats away at Chung-Chi making his mission to find her doubly important to him. He and Chui Kit, whose wife (Michelle Saram) is pregnant with their first child, find a clue via CCTV footage but it leads to a dead end, although their first real break comes from a prostitute Siu-man (Jacky Cai) who shares a vital piece of information after being abused by corrupt cop Ban (Ken Lo).
If you are keeping track we have one dead woman, one missing presumed dead woman, one pregnant woman and a prostitute/punching bag – yup, this is a man’s film alright. If it is any consolation the women are the one’s keeping the men grounded and if it wasn’t for Chung-Chi’s parental love he wouldn’t have been in Thailand to rumble the criminal activities happening under Kit’s nose.
Which is one of those niggling plot point issues that arise in such circumstances – how can Kit not notice something is going on, especially when his own father-in-law Commissioner Chai (Vithaya Pansringarm) ends up being involved? Before that there is the small matter of Chung-Chi becoming a wanted man after having a quiet (read: violent) word with Ban which compromises Chui’s participation in the investigation as he is following these trails to bring down the organ traffickers.
Heading the criminals is an American ex-pat Sacha (Chris Collins) because maybe Thai criminals aren’t interested in harvesting body parts as much as Americans, or maybe this was a concession by the producers so the Thais don’t look so bad in exchange for filming there. Not explained is how Cheng knows about Sacha or the extent of their relationship but he is a political fixer so we are left to assume that role encourages him to break the law if necessary.
Not to spoil anything but as you can imagine, it all ends in the most gruesome and bloody fashion possible with the casualties hitting double figures and a few needless fatalities along the way. The denouement is shockingly tragic to assert the idea that nobody wins when it gets personal but Yip refuses to end on a completely sour note with a final flicker of hope for the future.
One name that hasn’t been mentioned yet is Tony Jaa, the Thai martial arts sensation who starred in Killzone. Despite being prominent in the publicity for Paradox, his role as psychic cop Tak is limited to a few appearances. Jaa does get to fight though, showing age hasn’t slowed him down in a thrilling rooftop clash with Sacha, although Sammo Hung’s choreography, whilst still excellent, does comprise Jaa’s speedy strikes.
The climax of this particular fight is pretty dumb but at least the other scraps in the film are brutal affairs, ranging from weapons based clashes to close combat grappling and classic Kung Fu. Sammo Hung has adapted well with the times, employing MMA moves in with his usual style but he still needs to lose the wire fu flying which looks a bit silly in this context.
Louis Koo, previously the villain in Killzone, throws himself into the role of aggrieved father Chung-Chi after a slow start of mostly scowling, proving capable on the action front as well as the emotional drama. Gordon Lam is chillingly sneaky as Cheng but there is no backstory for his ruthless ambition, whilst Wu Yue as Chui Kit is a decent moral foil for both Chung-Chi and the corrupt villains.
Paradox is an exciting, violent, and dark action thriller to end the SPL trilogy on with a story and characters that needed more depth but delivers everything we expect from it.