In person: star Donnie Yen!

Donnie Yen has had two famous alley fights in his life, and both of them changed his career. The first was his match-up with Jet Li in Once Upon a Time in China 2, which put him on the map as a serious actor and martial artist. The second was the one he has with Wu Jing in Kill Zone (a.k.a. SPL: Saat Po Long) which turned him into an international name. Donnie Yen went into Kill Zone hungry to become a star. By the time the last body hits the hood of a car, he is one.

Lit in moody neon blues, Kill Zone is a return to form for Hong Kong action cinema. Wilson Yip takes everything that was good about Hong Kong crime movies in the 80’s and 90’s—their ferocious narrative drive and their knuckle-busting action—and repackages it in a movie as sleek and sophisticated as anything on the market. Simon Yam plays Inspector Chan, who has a longtime rage on to arrest criminal kingpin Po (the inimitable Sammo Hung). Po has killed witnesses and sucked the blood of the city and now, three days before his retirement, Chan is going to take him down. But Donnie Yen, playing Inspector Ma, has been assigned to take over Chan’s squad, and despite the rumors that Ma’s one bad mutha, he seems like a wimpy pacifist.

Chan and the gang decide that if they can’t take Po down through fair means, they’ll try foul, and they’re just in the process of an elaborate frame-up when Ma arrives and tries to stop them. Too late, because now they’ve pissed off the all-powerful Po and bodies are hitting the floor. It’s left to Donnie to dust off his knuckles and settle everyone’s hash.

Simon Yam brings more nuance to his role than it deserves, and Sammo Hung, who hadn’t had a leading role this meaty in a while, is all righteous fury. Then there’s Wu Jing, a martial artist sporting a bleach blond Kid n’Play haircut and moving at what seems to be the speed of light. As he and Donnie go at it in that alley, in a fight scene shot over one long night and mostly improvised, you can feel this movie lift off and enter the canon as a certified classic.