Fulltime Killers

March, 2003, Thriller

"Time Out" magazine recommended this Hong-Kong action film, but no critic can be right every time. It's 102 minutes of appalling violence, handsomely shot, in which visual technique guts the story's content as effectively as a fishmonger working on a fat, striped bass. The Asian action genre has suffered from the success of the John Woo/Chow Yun Fat gangster phenomenon every bit as much as American movies have had to endure the staggering mega-success of those perennial youngsters Steven Spielberg & George Lucas. Woo's mix of kinetic action and soap-opera storyline worked best in his native China; he's directed a string of American made films since moving here in the early 90's, (Broken Arrow, Face/Off, Wind Talkers) that have never risen above the mediocre. Yet his elaborately staged action sequences have spawned so many imitators anxious to capitalize on his box-office success that I stopped going to see them.

 In this flashy exercise, (jarringly presented with a strange mixture of Cantonese, Japanese and Mandarin subtitles supplementing occasional English on the soundtrack) a highly successful contract assassin finds himself challenged by a younger rival who seeks to become the numero uno killer-for-hire in all of Southeast Asia. The challenger, played with a smarmy cockiness by Andy Lau, seems to anticipate every move made by Takashi Sorimachi, his older and more infamous rival, who manages to be even less loquacious than Clint Eastwood in those early spaghetti westerns of 30 years ago. The body count grows from large to ludicrous as the action progresses, and the film's explicit disdain for the police, (smugly described as "cheerfully amoral" by Time Out's reviewer) should trouble even the most jaded member of the American left. Despite some effective action sequences, this one is far more gratuitously violent than necessary and not nearly as smart as its directors, (Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai) obviously think it is. You can cleverly spoof a genre even while paying homage to it; this effort just succeeds in admiring its own excesses. Too bad too; there's a good bit of material here which could have been put to much better use. 

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