Judge Ryan Keefer thinks that Scab Killer could be a misleading title, so perhaps Non-Union Killer is a little more appropriate.
I'll need guns.
-John Lee (Chou Yun-Fat), before receiving enough guns to arm a triad.
In an era when we see a lot of strange choices for extended or director's cut films, file The Replacement Killers as one of those choices. Making barely $20 million, the film garnered an extended cut to a bloated and outrageous 96 minutes (yes I'm joking), before being a film released on Blu-ray ahead of other catalog titles like The Magnificent Seven and Platoon. So is The Replacement Killers the bee's knees, especially in high definition?
Facts of the Case
Written by Ken Sanzel (Numb3rs) and directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) in his feature film directorial debut, Chou plays John Lee, a longtime assassin who cannot pull off a job which involves shooting a seven-year old child. Lee's boss frequently goes after family members of those that displease him, and Lee's dissension makes his family in China vulnerable. So Lee has to get to China to protect his family, employing the help of a forger (Mira Sorvino, The Final Cut) to get him there, or at the very least, help him through dealing with the crime boss in Los Angeles.
I really wanted to like this film, but there were parts of it that I thought were just insulting. I've never really been a Hong Kong film aficionado, but I have seen Chou in Hard Boiled, and enjoyed his role and the film itself, so I felt I should give The Replacement Killers a shot. Sure, it might have served as a transparent star vehicle for Chou, but at least what went on around him could have been done a little bit more convincingly. I've never seen the film that gave Sorvino the Oscar, but I think that at this point, she's probably gotten enough mileage out of it and quite frankly, should give it back. She's really nothing more than eye candy here, running around in a bra the last half hour of the film. It's also amazing that with all the time in the film she spends running around with wet hair she didn't catch pneumonia. She utters remarkably telegraphed lines of dialogue in a rather dullish manner.
And that's the other thing about the film, the story appears to take so many leaps of believability that it's stunning. The boy who is the target of the hit is the son of a police detective, played by Michael Rooker (Mallrats), and he's a pretty good cop, if making clichéd cop dialogue and not standing still when reciting a line are any barometers. Excessive use of bullets is normally OK, but when a car takes approximately ten million bullet hits in a chase scene, when does someone decide to shoot the tires out? Dialogue gets a little bit silly too, around the thirty-six minute mark, when a line is uttered that prompted the honorable Mrs. Keefer to utter "they should have named this thing The Stockholm Syndrome." As the main characters develop a bond, at the hour and twenty minute mark, they exchange lines with each other that prompted her to say "ew, double Stockholm Syndrome!" Silliness aside, it's not like you couldn't have seen something like that coming. There are a couple other familiar faces here too, one of whom isn't used properly (Jurgen Prochnow, Das Boot), and the other is used about right (Danny Trejo, Heat), but both are pretty forgettable.
For a decade-old film, the AVC MPEG-4 encoded feature is in its 2.40:1 glory. The detail through is pretty good, blacks provide a constant contrast in all their two handed pistol shooting glory and the detail is impressive. The PCM soundtrack puts in quite a bit of pep for a film of this age too. Gunfire provides an ample surround experience along with a significant low end from the subwoofer, and even though dialogue remains pretty focused in the center channel, it does sound quite a bit muted. The extras are the same as the standard def extended cut, with an interesting look at Chou as he was making his Hollywood debut. The cast and crew share their thoughts on Chou in a mix of dated and apparent recent interview footage. The differences between American and Hong Kong productions are discussed, and there is some footage of the Hong Kong premiere. The coolest thing here, one I would have liked to hear more about, is Executive Producer Terence Chang, who produced Hard Boiled and many of John Woo's films, briefly mentions a story on what finally convinced Chou to come to America, which if given some more detail is worth the price of the disc I think. It's an interesting piece, albeit brief. The shorter featurette is a ten minute on-set look at the film's production, full of the usual on-set cast and crew interviews and doesn't accomplish much.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Yeah, the film props Chou up as much as possible, and there are quite a few moments where he manages to show off the brilliance and charisma of Tequila or Ah Jong. There's gunplay with both hands, on a mechanic's cart and in various scenes and physical positions, to name a few, and he exhibits some of that charisma. But since John Woo isn't involved with the film other than as an executive producer, he doesn't get the same type of flair in this film that he's been given in others.
Popcorn type action aside, The Replacement Killers is a film that was done so much better the first time when Chou and Woo were wowing people in Hong Kong and a handful of people in America. Coming here, the action is decent, but the story is diluted and the performances are weak, and Hollywood would have done better to capitalize on the Hong Kong action genre several years earlier. Oh wait, Woo was doing it first in America and not doing a bad job with it.
Chou Yun-Fat is guilty for the crimes in The Replacement Killers, however due to his prior record, he is sentenced to time served with the court's best wishes.
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• "Chow Yun-Fat Goes to Hollywood"
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