Chow Yun-Fat was one of Hong Kong's biggest exports, making fame through his hyper-kinetic ballistic actioners with the Directors like John Woo (A Better Tomorrow, Hard Boiled) and Ringo Lam (Full Contact, City on Fire - later remade into Reservoir Dogs) before trying to break into Hollywood. But, whilst back home he was the best in his field (Hard Boiled is right up there with Die Hard in terms of classic action movies), here he had to practically start from scratch, teaming up with a young, almost debut director, Antoine Fuqua to make the John Woo-produced Replacement Killers. Its limited success, and the similarly limited success of his subsequent Hollywood efforts: the decent, and quite dark cop thriller The Corruptor - where he teamed up with Mark Wahlberg, the romantic drama with Jodie Foster - Anna and the King, and the enjoyable but lightweight Bulletproof Monk, all left most fans wishing he had just stayed in Hong Kong (where he eventually returned to make the outstanding Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). John Woo fans must feel a similar sentiment towards the director, and perhaps we would have had more enjoyable movies from the two of them had they reunited for further Hong Kong ballistic efforts. Still, we will never know, but in the meantime Chow Yun-Fat fans can revisit his early Hollywood days with the Blu-ray release of The Replacement Killers.
John Lee is a top assassin, indebted to a Chinese drug lord named Wei, who operates in Los Angeles. His latest mission is one of revenge on behalf of Wei, who wishes for him to kill the young son of a police officer (who was responsible for the death of Wei's own son), but when Lee refuses to go that far he soon finds himself on the run from Wei and some newly appointed 'replacement killers' intent on assassinating him, the cop and anybody they come into contact with. Trying to obtain fake documents and flee the country, Lee's path crosses with master forger Meg Coburn, who soon finds herself teamed up with Lee and on the run from both the cops and Wei's army of hired killers.
The Replacement Killers is a fairly generic action thriller brought to life by Chow Yun-Fat and all of the trademark gun-moves that he has learned over the years working with master ballistic director John Woo. It is strictly by-the-numbers, but cascades along from one bullet-frenzied set-piece to the next with the kind of fury you would expect from Woo, despite being helmed by (then relatively novice) Antoine Fuqua. Fuqua is the man behind the massively enjoyable tactical army actioner Tears of the Sun, the dark and powerful Oscar-winning cop drama Training Day and the above-average sniper thriller Shooter, but he cut his teeth on Music Videos, Adverts and Movie Trailers, with 1998's The Replacement Killers marking not only Chow Yun-Fat's Hollywood debut but also Fuqua's first cinematic directorial effort.
Chow Yun-Fat, whilst assuredly charming and charismatic in his Hong Kong productions, seems a little quieter and more reserved here in The Replacement Killers. Sure, it suits the role, but it is obvious that the role had to be tailored to take into consideration his limited ability to speak the English language. With a thick accent and some dodgy dialogue delivery, it was clearly something of a work in progress for Chow at the time, but thankfully his considerable charisma (and the aforementioned cool gun manoeuvres) goes some way towards endearing audiences to his character, who will probably forgive the woodenness and sit back to enjoy the ballistic thrill ride.
The movie is laden with b-movie names in clichéd supporting roles, not least the slightly out-of-place Mira Sorvino (yes, this unusually beautiful girl really is Paul 'Goodfellas' Sorvino's daughter), who plays the cocky, wisecracking forger who largely takes to mocking Chow's hitman until she realises just how much trouble she is in. Sorvino seems to be quite a capable actress, but has had very little room to show it, with the odd sparkle she showed in movies like the dark Summer of Sam or the Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite (for which she won an Oscar) getting largely smothered by her doing cheesy work like Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion or At First Sight. Her reasonable foray into horror, Mimic, and her performance here in The Replacement Killers provide her with little to sink her acting chops into, but still she does her job admirably, and makes for quite a talented action-heroine (certainly more convincing than, let's say, Angelina Jolie as Tomb Raider). Aside from Sorvino, Kenneth 'Memoirs of a Geisha' Tsang is forgettable as the clichéd Chinese mobster Wei, Jurgen 'Das Boot' Prochnow hams it up as another LA mobster, Michael 'Cliffhanger' Rooker grunts and grimaces as the cop with a price on his (and his son's) head and even Danny 'Machete' Trejo pops up as one of the replacement killers, and one of the worst assassins in the world (doesn't he almost always play a hired killer?).
But the cast isn't really the important thing here, it's more about the number of bullets fired (on which count the movie set an American record for the time) and the style with which they do that. And, as a distinct homage to Woo, Fuqua pulls it off with panache. It may not have the visceral class of a Woo action epic, but it is still thoroughly enjoyable if you just sit back and switch your brain off. Chow Yun-Fat too, as I've stated, is not quite up to his usual standard (largely thanks to his language problems), but again if you ignore this and just enjoy the moments where he has a gun in his hand - which is the majority of the movie - then you should do fine. This isn't Oscar-winning material, but as cheesy b-movie action vehicles go it is great fun.
It should be noted that this is the Extended Cut of the movie, which adds a few minutes of extra character development into the mix, mainly giving us a more development on the friendship between the two leads. Whilst it does not elevate this movie to A-grade status, it is a slightly better edit for fans to enjoy (even if most viewers will probably not even notice the differences).
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