Here's a question I've been asking myself for a while: why the hell did they decide to make Paradox? The supposed third installation to the SPL series just puzzles me on so many levels. Like most people, I thought the original SPL was fantastic and a real breath of fresh air (with a slight nostalgic breeze) for the action genre in Hong Kong cinema. Flash forward 10 years, and we get a sequel that mirrored the original film in so many ways, while still offering something very different. SPL 2 amped up the adrenaline level, with long takes and ridiculously elaborate choreography, to create a uniquely distinct experience. The sequel was overly cinematic and deviated from the raw surrealism that the original film offered. This is actually almost identical to what happened for The Raid films. People might have been disappointed if they were expecting more of the same, but in both instances, the filmmakers in question (Wilson Yip and Gareth Evans) had a clear purpose in mind when they signed onto making a sequel.
And that brings me to Paradox, a sequel that arrives at the table with no real substance to offer. When the movie first started, it felt like Yip was crafting a film that was going to focus more on the drama, rather than the action. That would certainly be an interesting addition to the franchise, which has leaned on some pretty serious material for its underlying narratives. With organ trafficking being the primary plot line again, I was excited to see how Yip might try to address this issue with words this time around. I know that Tony Jaa had a guest appearance credit, but with Louis Koo and Gordon Lam leading off the main cast, I assumed that this wouldn't be a full on action film.
But in the end, Paradox couldn't steer too far away from its action genre tendencies. Don't get me wrong, it was by no means as action packed as the first two SPL films. In fact, the action was probably intentionally light, in hopes that the 'paradox' of the characters' ethical choices take the limelight instead. The only problem is that the dramatic story arc didn't really kick off as strongly as they probably hoped. Louis Koo really stretches his acting capabilities here (and surprisingly, won an Asian Film Award last week for his performance), but its still really hard to take the film too seriously.
Like the first two instalments, Paradox tries to be a mix of both action and drama. But whereas SPL and SPL 2 succeeded because they were branded as primarily action films, Paradox's attempt at branding itself as more of a serious drama just doesn't work. The action still takes over, except with lesser performers (physically speaking), creating set pieces that simply fall short of expectations. If the dramatic aspects of Paradox worked better, it would make up for this deficiency, but unfortunately that aspect of the film isn't that good either. So we're stuck with a film that doesn't do what the original did quite as well, but simply exists to mute the generally positive reception created thus far for the SPL franchise.
We all know that Wilson Yip is not averse to milking a franchise, and the fact that he's actually making Ip Man 4 is more than enough proof of that. But as unnecessary as Ip Man 3 was, the fun factor was more or less still there, and one could argue that there was some value added in seeing a Donnie Yen/Mike Tyson matchup. With Paradox, I don't think there's any value added at all. The film's existence is indeed a paradox that needs further explanation, and its title is so creatively apt. If there ends up being a fourth instalment of SPL, they should title it 'Redemption' and that should be its primary objective. I'm sure this wasn't intentional (and it's probably a bit inappropriate to make light of a serious scene), but when Tony Jaa's character 'exited' the film midway through, he had the right idea. This was not a film he needed to get involved in.