Directors: Johnnie To, Wai Ka-Fai
Stars: Andy Lau, Takashi Sorimachi, Kelly Lin, Simon Yam, Cherrie Ying, Lam Suet
Most reviews of this movie -- one of the more hotly anticipated for 2001 -- were lukewarm to downright nasty. Perhaps some of this is due to Johnnie To's reputation as a film-maker. Even though he has demonstrated that he is willing to make more commerical movies going back to the classic Heroic Trio, most people equate To with quirky crime pictures like A Hero Never Dies, and those times he ventures outside of that genre are often met with derision from gweilo fanboys. Yes, this is an unabashedly commerical film -- a classic "summer popcorn movie" if you will -- but those who are unwilling to watch (or accept) a movie simply becuase of this often miss out on some damn good movies, Fulltime Killer being one of them. In fact, in a year that produced a tide of stunningly average movies on both sides of the ocean, it stands out as one of the few truly enjoyable cinematic experiences.
The plot is refreshingly simple in this day of convoluted action films. Andy Lau plays an assassin named Tok, who is very talented at his job but also extremely vain. Nothing gets Tok's blood boiling more than someone who mentions the current "king" of assassins, a Japanese man simply called O (played by Takashi Sorimachi), and so Tok sets out to kill O, using O's cleaning lady (the lovely Kelly Lin) as bait. Seeing the opportunity to finally catch the killer, two Interpol cops (Simon Yam and Cherrie Ying) join in the chase.
However, like many other Milkyway movies, Fulltime Killer certainly has its' share of quirk, which only adds to the enjoyment. Tok initially meets up with Kelly by donning a Bill Clinton mask, going so far as to wear it while they see a movie. And movie buffs will get quite a kick out of all the film references, since Tok bases many of his "hits" on scenes from his favorite films. The mix of both straightforward action and unusual twists make for a more interesting viewing experience than your usual action film.
And speaking of action, while Fulltime Killer is not as pyrotechnically explosive as some other Hong Kong movies, it definitely delivers the goods. At first, I was somewhat annoyed by the camera tricks (such as slow motion) that were being used, but as To and co-director Wa Ka-Fai go further into the movie, the cinematography during the action sequences becomes one of the keys to the film. One unforgettable part that uses the aforementioned slow motion very effectively is when Tok blows out a target's kneecaps with a shotgun. It's an incredibly violent and visceral shot, that while lasting only a few seconds, shows that Hong Kong film-makers are still the kings of action, no matter how much Hollywood tries to copy or pilfer them.
Alas, though, Fulltime Killer is not a perfect movie. The acting didn't feel quite right. Even though I enjoyed the characters (something rare for an Andy Lau role for this reviewer), they didn't feel as fleshed out as they should have been. Most of this comes from the fact that the principal actors speak very little of their native language. Though Andy Lau's use of Japanese fit in with his character, the use of English did not, especially when the person he uses English with (Lam Suet, his "agent") is also Chinese. Simon Yam seemed the most out of place. He speaks entirely in English, and while his delivery is alright, it seems to inhibit his performance, which ends up hurting the movie since we're supposed to believe that he goes through some sort of major transformation near the finale.
Speaking of which, I felt like the ending was a bit of a cop out. There is little true resolution to the story. Hong Kong films are known for not having everything neatly wrapped up at the end, but Fulltime Killer tries too hard to have a "twist" ending and fails a bit as a result. But on the whole, as I said before, Fulltime Killer is most definitely one of the best films of 2001 from anywhere in the world. True, it is a lot of style over substance, but, man, what style. Fulltime Killer is a fun and kinetic ride through the seedier side of Asia that you won't want to get off of.
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A review of the DVD for this movie can be found here
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