|The Plot: O is an isolationist, and he’s also the number one assassin in all of Asia. He lives alone, with his only source of companionship in the form of a girl who cleans his apartment as he watches from across the street. O lives his life as usual until Tok enters the game. Tok is a mysterious and flamboyant assassin who is after the title of number one hitman, and that means taking O out of the game. As Tok starts work he falls for the beautiful Chin, a girl who works in a local Japanese video store and just so happens to be O’s house cleaner. This bizarre love triangle has to come to an end, but when it does, who will survive?|
The Review: I thought Hong Kong was dead. I really did, and for at least partially good reason. What once was a breeding ground for creative filmmaking seems to have fallen pray to the glamour of Hollywood productions, at the same time just emulating films that are emulating their own films. That’s probably putting things in a much simpler light than they really are, It’s just that this new wave of Hong Kong strikes me as all gloss and little substance. Not that a film like Hard Boiled was brimming with substance and character development, but when you were dealing with a director like John Woo, you were dealing with a real talent. A visionary in the action field and probably one of the most important action directors since Sam Peckinpah. When you compare Woo with someone like Benny Chan or Wilson Yip, you’re treading in completely different waters. Hong Kong has just become more commercial. Pop stars dominate the screen and hard hitting cop/gangster dramas are pretty much nonexistent. One could say there isn’t a demand for it, but the existence of Fulltime Killer says otherwise to me. So here I am, having just stumbled out of Fulltime Killer, totally blown away and my faith in Hong Kong cinema at least partially restored. At moments Fulltime Killer is just as glitzy or ‘Hollywood’ as anything to come out of recent Hong Kong, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Johnny To and Wai Ka-Fai show that just because a HK film has the technology and chic look of a Hollywood film doesn’t mean it can’t deliver the ferocity and dynamic action that heroic bloodshed fans have grown to love.
Dynamic and Ferocious are just two of about a million adjectives you could use to describe Fulltime Killer! Those looking for a subtle character piece had best look elsewhere. Reading a review for the film on the imdb that criticizes it for being all brawn an brains just makes me sick, I would have to assume this person is just lacking in testosterone. Sure, if a film is idiotic but full of action then you’re not going to have fun, but not only is Fulltime Killer a blasting action film, but it’s at least competently written enough so that it’s got a little twist and doesn’t fall into all out boredom from it’s own rudimentary script. Fulltime Killer doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the table storywise, but what it’s plot lacks in originality it more than makes up for in it’s execution. First of all, the story builds upon so many things; least of which is the regular generic ‘hero & villain have close ties’ story that Woo so perfectly executed long ago. There are so many things going on in Fulltime Killer that it’s hard for me, after one viewing, to even begin to decipher it all. The film is self referential, the fact that our lead character is a film geek and seems to have learned his trade from watching movies was a brilliant move in my opinion. There are references in the dialogue about everything from Robert Rodriguez to an obscure French film that I haven’t even heard of. It’s an easy way for the audience (especially us nerds) to identify with such an over the top persona as Tok. Andy Lau plays the role full tilt. The scene most likely to be mentioned in any review for the film that exceeds one paragraph is a shootout Tok has while wearing a Bill Clinton mask over his face. Tok just walks out of a coffee shop, walks around the corner with the mask on, shoots a few goons with his shotgun then ends it all by blowing away his target’s knee caps and then taking his life. All while on a date! Andy Lau doesn’t take off the mask until after he’s blasted all the guy’s away, but even with his face hidden he still is just radiant in the part. It’s defining role no doubt about it.
Of course, I shouldn’t have to say it because I say it so much, but Fulltime Killer isn’t a perfect film. As much as I wish it was, and as much as I wish I could give it a stubbing and not feel wrong I just can’t. For the most part the film is everything I’ve said it is; Exciting, awesome and one of the best action films to come out of Hong Kong in a long while. But the film just falls apart near the end. There aren’t any huge plot gaps or anything to make me attack the film, but after all the hugely innovative stuff to come previously, the ending just feels like a copout. There’s a small and predictable twist, but the fact that everything just falls together so ‘neatly’ doesn’t sit right with me. Simon Yam is completely wasted in the film, speaking most of his dialogue in fairly good English, he just doesn’t even feel like he’s part of the story. He’s more of a go between in everything. The real story lie’s with Tok and O, and every second away from them feels like a second wasted. I love Simon Yam don’t get me wrong, it’s not his fault, it’s just the character is weak. If this part of the story was really supposed to work, there should have been more interaction with the other characters. So when everything comes together with Yam during the last twenty minutes it doesn’t settle. It all feels phony and it’s hard for me to put into words. Usually when dealing with the heroic bloodshed (man, I feel weird calling this flick that but I guess that’s what it is) you would expect that the ending would be the most phenomenal part, but here we barely go out with a bang.
Don’t take my word for it, you’ll have to make up your own minds about the film. Whether I’ve overhyped the action (which in truth there isn’t that much, it’s just done so well) or underhyped the ending, you’ll likely have a battle with hype if you listen to my moronic ramblings. If you like gangster films, this is a must see. Hong Kong may be changing (and heck, maybe it’s for the better), but it’s good to see that hard hitting action dramas haven’t been completely forgotten. I wish my knowledge of Johnny To & Wai Ka-Fai was better, but I’ll just say I hope to see more of their work.