Cantonese language. Hong Kong, 2001. Not Rated.
Andy Lau, Takashi Sorimachi, Kelly Lin, Suet Lam, Teddy Lin, Simon Yam,
|Grade: B||Review by Jeff Vorndam|
ne of the few internationally famous Hong Kong action directors not wasting his talents directing Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, Johnnie To scores another hit with this film about rival assassins who get mixed up with the same girl. Fulltime Killer has all the essential ingredients for a Hong Kong action spectacular: 1) An inexhaustible supply of non-descript policemen who shoot poorly and die in bullet-riddled slow motion. 2) Gangsters who, when they aren't jumping sideways in slow-motion while shooting, kill people with a 'no-look' shot that Jason Kidd would be proud of. 3) A story that makes less sense as it goes along, culminating in a "how did we get here?" finale.
It's a lot of fun, in other words, especially due to the charismatic presence of star Andy Lau. He plays an assassin named Tok who couldn't be more conspicuous in his attempts to overtake Asia's #1 assassin. (There's these assassin rankings, you see, that must be published monthly in Assassin Digest or something, and everyone's always trying to wipe out #1.) Tok smiles constantly throughout the film; he loves his job and even takes assignments with "shit pay" because he enjoys the notoriety. His constant grin is explicitly likened to a mask when, in a scene reminiscent of Point Break, he dons a Bill Clinton mask for one of his public slayings.
His nemesis is O, Asia's current #1 assassin. O is played by Japanese actor-singer-heartthrob Takashi Sorimachi. Where Tok is outlandish and exuberant, O is stoic and taciturn. One thing they both have in common (besides the assassin thing) is a secret from their past that will play heavily in their confrontation. Tok's secret involves his brother and the mysterious brain condition they share, which causes them to foam at the mouth and spazz out whenever they see a bright flickering light. O's secret concerns his housecleaner Chin, who suspects her employer may be an assassin (could it be those micro-Uzis hanging on the wall that give him away?). Complications arise when Tok takes Chin out on a date. Is he sincere, or is he using her to get to O?
In addition to the requisite thrills, this is also a pretty funny movie. Witness the writers' gift for Marx Brothers style dialogue in this scene where Tok tries to pick up Chin at the video store:
"I don't have a VCR."
"But you come to the video store and rent here every day!"
"That's why I only rent what I've already seen."
Fulltime Killer is the kind of movie that can end only with a shootout in an abandoned warehouse. Not only is this the case, but the warehouse this time is a fireworks warehouse, and the final showdown is scored to the "Ode to Joy" chorale from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Over-the-top? Yes! Unfortunately, the film doesn't end there, and spends another fifteen minutes attempting to locate a low-key note on which to rest. It doesn't work because it relies on the previously minor character of the cop who's been tracking the assassins. It's too late in the film to develop this character, and too late to care about his struggle to write the film's story.
Johnnie To and co-writer/director Wai Ka-fei pack the film with self-conscious references to action films like Point Break, Leon, and Die Hard, as well as the Hong Kong classics of John Woo, Tsui Hark, and Ringo Lam. They are used in an amusing and light-handed way that doesn't grow tiresome. In fact, cumulatively they act as a way of taking stock of the action genre so far. Fulltime Killer plays like a summation of an era in which directors pushed the genre's limits, both in terms of style and the level of violence. To some eyes this will seem like a recycling of clichés, an assassin's greatest hits. To others, it will remind them that Hong Kong action cinema is still alive and kicking.
Fulltime Killer played at the 45th San Francisco International Film Festival on April 28 and April 29, 2002. It was released on DVD on May 28, 2002.
© April 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Teamwork Pictures Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
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