Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate
editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author
of The Hong Kong Filmography.
Director Johnnie To Kei-fung. Courtesy Deltamac.
Johnnie To Kei-fung and Wai Kar-fai's shot at the international market, FULLTIME KILLER completely lacks the resonance and intriguing plotting one has come to expect from Milkyway, while displaying an obsession with surface gloss that is all too Hollywood. Japanese assassin Ono (the handsome but bland Takashi Sorimachi) is considered the tops in his field but, while doing a job in Kuala Lumpur, he is forced to kill an old school friend who recognized him at the scene. This compromises his identity and provides a pair of law enforcers (Simon Yam Tat-wah and Cherrie Ying Choi-yee) with a new lead as to the man's whereabouts.
Kelly Lin and...Bill Clinton?! Image courtesy Deltamac.
Meanwhile, movie-addicted HK killer Tok (Andy Lau Tak-wah) is determined to do what it takes to steal away the top spot. The blatantly wacko Tok (who performs one hit while wearing a Bill Clinton mask!) begins by romancing Chin (the perpetually uninteresting Kelly Lin Hsi-lei showing little improvement here), a trilingual Taiwanese girl, who periodically cleans Ono's apartment and is clearly someone the killer has developed feelings for. Eventually, through a series of events not worth relating, the men meet face-to-face for a friendly evening of dinner and drink, followed by a decisive duel in a fireworks warehouse Tok has seeded with weapons.
Takashi Sorimachi. Image courtesy Deltamac.
Despite the fact that we jump all over Asia and back again, the story is never very involving and plays out like it had to be jerry-rigged around a series of pre-conceived action setpieces. With references to every influential action hit in arms reach (including EL MARIACHI, TERMINATOR 2, POINT BREAK, THE PROFESSIONAL, TIME AND TIDE, and the CRYING FREEMAN manga / anime), the screenplay ultimately shows that any movie so obsessed with homage cannot possibly deliver anything imaginative. Admittedly, there are indications that portions of the film (the climax, in particular) were not meant to be taken all that seriously but, if the creators were indeed striving for parody, the movie is too self-conscious and obvious to work on that level either. It also does not help that large portions of KILLER are in English for no logical reason at all; Lau and Yam are unable to convey anything but the most basic emotions in their flat English deliveries, making it even more difficult for the viewer to care about their one-dimensional characters. Although he is mostly allowed to act in his native tongue, Sorimachi is no more interesting; as for Lin, even if her character behaved in a logical fashion, one would still be hard pressed to understand Chin's fascination with Ono. Like all that surrounds them, the action setpieces are flashy but unexciting, consisting of staging and camerawork that have lost their edge through repetition and some clunky CGI. In his opening voiceover, Lau's character says he loves to watch any kind of action movie "as long as they're not boring and have fresh ideas," a bit of irony that is more pointed than any of the half-baked philosophy his character offers up in this highly disappointing, wearisomely hollow exercise. Lam Suet (also speaking English) appears briefly as Tok's boss.
Simon Yam Tat-wah. Image courtesy Deltamac.
Andy Lau. Image courtesy Deltamac.