Friday, May 20, 2016

The Replacement Killers

   Few things bring me as much joy in life as a good damn action movie does. Bonus points if it has and/or opens on a club scene with a hip techno beat blasting. Movies like The Matrix, Blade, xXx, Collateral, John Wick and even The Terminator come to mind. Odds are, you've seen a hundred movies with shootouts in techno clubs. If you think that's a casual exaggeration, think again. I'm very sure the number is right around 100 or more. The Replacement Killers is no exception. It opens with Chow Yun Fat's character, hitman John Lee, slowly walking through the raving crowd of a techno club. Oh ho ho boy, this is already promising!

   In no time flat, Fat breaks out the kind of gun-ballet he honed in John Woo movies, showing off grace and badassery in equal measure as he plugs a bunch of thugs in this club. This is how any respectable action movie lets you know that the main character is an assassin. Hell, even The Killer opened on a scene just like this. The familiarity I felt from this movie was a welcome familiarity. It already had the makings of a straightforward gun-fu flick and the opening credits weren't even over yet. "This movie will have a bunch of slow motion, epic squibs, and many exploding glass windows." I said to myself. And, hey hey hey... I was right.

   This being Chow Yun Fat's first American movie meant that his trademark swagger was inevitably going to be married to a more 'western' style story. A lot of the excess is trimmed away, for example- in Hard Boiled, my hands down favorite Hong Kong actioner, there's lengthy and almost tedious scenes where Fat talks to his police chief, talks to his girlfriend, plays jazz in a club, or just contemplates stuff. Granted, this is all balanced out in the extreme by some of the craziest, non-stop, balls-to-the-wall action scenes you will ever see in your life. So, that's fair. But, how was The Replacement Killers going to do?

   Well it balanced things out a bit better. It's action scenes are a cut above the standard shootouts of the mid to late 90's, and my worst fear was that Fat would be wasted on a movie with generic or even boring action scenes. Thankfully this is not the case here. The only thing I can say is that it's not quite on John Woo's level of insanity, despite the man holding a producer's credit. So, it's not quite Hard Boiled, or The Killer, but it's not as dry as a cheap Lethal Weapon knock-off either. It's action scenes are stylish, hard-hitting, and energetic. It's raining bullets and blood in this movie and it's so much fun to see Chow Yun Fat doing what he does best here. And, arguably, doing it better than he's done before.

   There's a bit more heart and fire in his performance as John Lee. He's a man with a dark past, and he carries an immense weight on his shoulder. This is a more three dimensional character than I'm used to him playing. Even his part in The Killer was overblown, straight into melodrama. This was more balanced. The movie also isn't plagued by some of the ridiculous humor some of his HK action flicks couldn't escape. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy a bit of good humor in an action movie, just look at any of the Lethal Weapon flicks. But a lot of HK action flicks go crazy with the humor, like- outright slapstick. I realize this might just be a cultural difference, but it always takes me out of the movie.

   The Replacement Killers, being an American flick, doesn't have that problem. It's witty at times, but is mainly focused on keeping the tension up and the plot moving forward. It's a very tight movie, clocking in at a breezy total of 96 minutes- end credits included. Having said that though, Fat has great chemistry with co-star Mira Sorvino, who turns in a decent performance as a badass herself. She's in this as much as Fat is, and deserved to be toting a gun on the movie cover as much as he did. She's not a damsel in distress, and she's not a soppy romantic interest either. She has equal footing in the movie with Fat, and only plays second to him only because the story is first and foremost about him. The supporting cast is also fantastic.

   Danny Trejo, Patrick Kilpatrick, Michael Rooker, Jurgen Prochnow, and Til Schweiger all have parts in the movie. All of these guys are to some degree or another, action movie veterans. I got so excited seeing their names in the opening credits, and I wasn't disappointed. But, bonus points for also having Al Leong in there too. It's not a true 80's-90's action flick until he shows up. (Very few exceptions to that rule.) But more than a stellar action flick cast, the cinematography and style of this movie is amazing. It's vibrantly colorful, and frequently shot with a truly artistic eye. There's some downright gorgeous looking scenes in here. Director Antoine Fuqua and director of photography Peter Lyons Collister really turned in a great looking flick here.

   Fuqua knew what he was doing, and even though his final cut was interfered with, the core of the movie still shines like a glint of light off a spent shell casing. The movie might only be John Woo-lite, but that's still high praise. It's a breezy and violent thriller with plenty of action to keep genre fans glued to their seats. I had a blast with The Replacement Killers.

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