(2001) dir. Johnny To, Ka-Fai Wai
viewed: 04/28/02 at AMC Kabuki Theater, SF
Fulltime Killer, which I saw as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, was one of the first new Hong Kong action films that I had seen in some time.
I had been quite the aficianado of HK films through much of the 90’s (like, apparantly, most people), but I had dropped off my viewing of HK films right about the point when Hong Kong was handed back to mainland China. Jackie Chan, John Woo, Ringo Lam, Chow Yun-Fat, and Tsui Hark all started producing work in Hollywood to varying extents, so a significant portion of the talent pool had been drained, and quite a lot of buzz said that the heyday of HK film had come and gone.
So, I don’t know exactly why I hadn’t been out to see a HK film in such a long time. Ironically, the last one that I had seen had been really good (Beyond Hypothermia (1996)), so I don’t have a better explanation.
The film was pretty slick and entertaining, featuring Andy Lau, Takashi Sorimachi, and Kelly Lin. Interestingly, or maybe oppositely so, one of the screenwriters was an American, Joey O’Bryan, who helped adapt the script from a popular novel or something. I am supposing that he is the perpetrator of the Quentin Tarantino-esque, heavy- handed filmic reference-dropping that gave the film its rather clumsy psuedo self-referential side. It seems like a particularly American thing.
Ironically, dropping cultural references into films in such blatant fashion seems to finally have gone out of fashion. The film handles it in particularly gauche style, inserting it into dialogues by the flamboyant villain. After stabbing a guy in the hand with a knife at the bar, he tells him to go check out this Alain Delon film, from which he got the idea.
Oddly enough, one of the funniest parts of the film arises out of this very sequence, when later that guy who got stabbed comes back yelling at him that he looked all over town for the film and he couldn’t find his stupid movie.
I thought the film made some pretty good use of location filming, shot in numerous places in Asia from what the titles said.
I found the film lacking in some respects, like lacking much real meaning. Outside of the heavy-handed, rather self-conscious attempts at clever self-reference, I don’t know what else to say.
While it was indeed a fairly entertaining film, it is a far cry from the heyday of HK film-making, Or maybe it is simply a less talented team that produced this film. I note that Johnny To also helmed the directoral chair for The Heroic Trio (1992) & Executioners (1993), two pretty fun action/fantasy flicks which did come from the HK film heyday. So who knows?