The Replacement Killers
Screenplay : Ken Sanzel
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1998
Stars : Chow Yun-Fat (John Lee), Mira Sorvino (Meg Coburn), Michael Rooker (Stan ``Zeedo'' Zedkov), Kenneth Tsang (Terence Wei), Jurgen Prochnow (Michael Kogan)
Pop quiz: how does Chow Yun-Fat relate to actor Jackie Chan and director John Woo? And, for extra credit, how does Antoine Fuqua relate with directors David Fincher and Michael Bay?
The answer? Both formers want to do what the four latters have already done. Chow Yun-Fat, the star of Antoine Fuqua's stylish action thriller "The Replacement Killers" is hoping that he can make the big transfer from Hong Kong cinema to the bright lights of Hollywood, as previous Hong Kongers Chan ("Rumble in the Bronx") and Woo ("Face/Off") have already done. Likewise, Fuqua is hoping to find success directing full-length feature films instead of snazzy music videos and commercials, the same route taken by now A-list directors Fincher ("Seven," "The Game") and Michael Bay ("The Rock" and the upcoming "Armageddon").
Choosing "The Replacement Killers" as their vehicle may have seemed like a good idea on paper for Yun-Fat and Fuqua, but in the end, the movie proves to be just another routine action extravaganza that wastes their combined talent rather than utilizing it. "The Replacement Killers" bears great resemblance to a Hong Kong action flick, and it gives Yun-Fat plenty of room in which to operate the smooth charm and slick moves that have made him a celebrated hero of more than fifty films in Asia. Behind the camera, Fuqua also gets to exercise the hyper-sensitized style of slow motion, heightened sound effects, and jazzy camerawork that made him the toast of MTV with the video for Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise."
The only problem? Been there. Done that.
"The Replacement Killers" offers absolutely nothing new, and even the vibrant present of Chow Yun-Fat isn't enough to offset a droll story of a hitman turned target because he refuses to pull a job that rakes against his moral principles. Yun-Fat is more than effective as the morally challenged hitman -- he has the amazing ability to be both the hardest and softest man in the world at the same time -- and his American co-star, Mira Sorvino, holds her own as a document forger who unwittingly becomes involved in his dilemma when he asks her to make a fake passport to get him back to China.
The problem is that the movie is all style, and no substance. As a matter of fact, there's so much style that even if it had substance we may not have known it. Fuqua stylizes everything in the movie, making it hard to know what's important and what's not. It's impossible for one of the movie's characters to dial a phone, button a shirt, or set something down on a table without a thunderous tidal wave of camera trickery and sound effects. Sorvino washing her face in a sink is treated with the same technical overkill as a gun battle in a car wash (or in a movie theater or in a video arcade or . . .).
Fuqua could take a few lessons from Woo (who, incidentally, executive produced the film). Fuqua has obviously tried to adopt Woo's kinetic style, and mix it with a little of Michael Bay's and David Fincher's stark visuals. But, Fuqua needs to learn what Woo already knows: when to turn on the heat, and when to simply let the movie simmer. Fuqua tries to keep the whole thing on a rolling boil from start to finish, and it ends up overflowing and burning out the fire. Maybe he'll do better the next time around.
©1998 James Kendrick