PARADOX: A Disappointing Conclusion To A Loose Trilogy

Kill Zone 2 this ain’t

The SPL (Kill Zone in the U.S.) franchise is a truly curious beast. While Kill Zone was a big success, the sequel didn’t come until many years later. With very little connective tissue to the first film, the franchise seemed to be linked more thematically than anything else. Kill Zone 2 established the loose connection element by switching up the cast and even doing some re-casting of the same actors into different roles. That tradition continues here, bringing action sensation Tony Jaa along on the third installment as a character totally unrelated to the last film. Apparently Paradox lead Louis Koo was also in the last installment though I don’t remember his character. At a basic level this is a fun concept that could continue indefinitely; and it has up to this point.

Paradox just isn’t any fun though. While the previous two films also have a pretty R-rated kung fu vibe to them, dealing with mature themes of good and evil, the other defining characteristic connecting them had been world class martial artists doing career defining action set pieces. Paradox isn’t action-free or anything, but the star caliber isn’t what it was in the first two, and the action just doesn’t deliver in the way the first two films did.

Louis Koo plays Lee, a cop who travels to Thailand to find his missing daughter, whom he basically sent there to force into an abortion. It’s pretty dark, and Koo’s character is most definitely a dickhead who’s unlikeable and with whom we’re asked to wallow in misery for most of the film’s runtime. It’s kind of like Taken only it’s some other guy (Tony Jaa) who has the particular set of skills. Jaa plays Tak, a righteous street cop who has all the best fight sequences in the film but who really has no defining character traits beyond “awesome kicking”.

I wouldn’t be so harsh except that the pedigree of this movie heightened my expectations, and ultimately let me down. Director Wilson Yip is pretty legendary, having directed the first Kill Zone as well as the entire Ip Man trilogy. He’s done hard-R action before, and graceful character-based kung fu as well. Paradox seems to be going for hard-hitting melodrama, perhaps even really trying to make a statement about parenting. And I guess that’s fine… it just feels like the wrong direction for this franchise. If you want to make biting melodrama, why not do that and simply not group it in with the Kill Zone films? For that matter, the naming convention was eschewed in America anyway, so not only does it feel out of place as Kill Zone 3… it isn’t even CALLED Kill Zone 3. The whole thing feels wrong-headed and slap dash. And with a series this loosely interconnected, there’s no rush. Why do slap dash when Kill Zone 3 could have taken all the time in the world to be done right?

It has to be said that my primary issue comes down to star Louis Koo. He’s an extremely handsome guy and he’s been in a ton of projects (most of which I admittedly haven’t seen). He’s competent here as an actor, but it’s painfully clear that he’s not a martial artist. Close shots and quick cuts all edit around this fact. This is a technique used constantly in action cinema and we’ve mostly come to accept it. But don’t ask me to accept it in a Kill Zone film! We’ve previously had Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, and Wu Jing starring in the first film, then Wu Jing and Tony Jaa in the second. We’ve seen some career best fight work from these legends in the previous installments, and then we get a dour drama with a handsome lead who can’t compete with the physical talents of those who’ve come before him? It just doesn’t compute. Again, dark drama has its place and I’m sure Louis Koo is great… but this franchise demands more.

It was hard to write this review because my expectations for Paradox were quite high, and I came out hugely disappointed. It is quite possible that someone else might approach the movie with less baggage and enjoy it for what it is. It’s competently made and features some real international star power. It pulls no punches as a dark drama, feeling like it has a little Korean influence injected into it. Tony Jaa does get to do his thing and it’ll occasionally get your pulse pounding. Completists will feel a need to see it, and casual fans might find some elements to enjoy. I personally can’t shake the disappointment and will continue to direct potential fans to Kill Zone 2 as the highlight of this series.

And I’m Out.

Paradox is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital from Well Go USA

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