March 20th, 2003
American fans of the modern day Hong Kong action film finally have the worthy successor to “A Better Tomorrow” and “The Killer” which they have been patiently waiting for. Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai’s “Fulltime Killer” is a frenetic, non-stop fusion of action and dark humor, as two hired assassins play a deadly game of cat and mouse to decide who is the best in their field. Featuring a white-hot performance from Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau, this is the movie the Wachowski Brothers probably had in mind when they wrote the similarly themed “Assassins.” With careful marketing, American distributor Palm Pictures should have a decent hit with the import, hopefully paving new ground for a much-needed infusion of Asian cinema.
Across the Pan Asian region, the assassin known simply as “O” (Takashi Sorimachi) is the best in the business. Principled, disciplined and very much the perfectionist, O completes his assignments swiftly and efficiently, to the delight of his customers. Being the best, O is expensive and worth it. He knows the life of an assassin is a lonely one, a point he was once reminded of when his love, Nancy, was killed in his apartment by forces after him.
Tok (Lau) is the new kid on the block, willing to take any job for any price in order to boost his name. Brash and uncontained, he takes pleasure in his work, relishing the commotion he causes when he fulfills one contract in a busy intersection filled with witnesses. Tok knows the only way to become number one is to take down the current holder of that title, but he wants more than just a victory. Tok wants O to know him and why he does what he is doing. After years of studying the master, Tok works to get O out of the shadows with the angle he feels will work best; seducing O’s part time housekeeper Chin (Kelly Lin). In love with her barely seen employer and tired of waiting for him to make the first move, Chin accepts a date from Tok.
All the while, a group of Interpol agents are tracking both killers. Led by Agent Lee, who has spent years on O’s trail, the team diligently studies every scrap of evidence, coming ever closer to their targets with each passing day.
O is finally lured out of his controlled world, not by Tok but through a rival group of killers, who have taken Chin hostage during one of her housekeeping visits to his apartment. As secretly smitten with Chin as she is with him, O does rescue his damsel in distress, only to draw the attention of Lee and the Interpol officers straight to his hideaway in the building across the street from his apartment. When their attempts to escape the authorities seems doomed to fail, it is Tok who helps O and Chin to make a getaway, not ready to let any police force stand in the way of his master plan.
As we enter the final act, both O and Tok have disappeared. Agent Lee, taking the fall for the loss of both killers, is dismissed from his position. Left with only one option, Lee starts to write a book about the one subject he’s spent most of his adult life working on. Instead of finding solace, however, Lee is slowly going mad, unable to finish the story with no ending. After some time, the answers come, when Chin calls Lee to meet at a diner next door to his place. Over the course of dinner, Chin tells Lee of the final meeting between moral rivals.
“Fulltime Killer” lives in the best of both worlds, mixing a highly stylized world tailor-made for the visual medium that is cinema with a coherent storyline that withstands the most intense scrutiny. Longtime director To, who finally started receiving worldwide recognition with his 1999 feature “The Mission” after twenty years of working in relative obscurity behind the likes to John Woo, Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam, has crafted a masterwork of action and bullets full of new life and energy to an otherwise tired and well-worn genre. And while Sorimachi’s O is the lead role, it is Lau’s Tok that is the star of the film, relishing his “villain” role with a dedicated joy rarely seen in movie houses today. The works of his costars are all top-notch, but Lau is so great that he makes you forget you’re not supposed to be rooting for him.
Opening across the United States this spring, “Fulltime Killer” ought to be at the top of your film going list should it show near you. It is pure, authentic cinematic fun that should not be missed. I give it an A+ for effort and an A+ for execution.
”Fulltime Killer” Scorecard
Directors: Johnnie To, Ka-Fai Wai
Writers: Joey O'Bryan and Ka-Fai Wai, based upon the novel by Ho Cheung Ping
Producers: Andy Lau, Johnnie To, Ka-Fai Wai
Cinematographer: Siu-keung Cheng
Editor: David M. Richardson
American Distributor: Palm Pictures
Running Time: 102 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Sound Format: Dolby Digital
My rating: A+