Hong Kong action meets Hollywood cool!
Boy, talk about a booming genre. When I was a kid, the only kung-fu movies I saw was grainy stuff starring Bruce Lee and a lot of Asian guys with dubbed voices. My, how the times have changed. I think the turning point to all this was when Jackie Chan starred in Rumble In The Bronx, a thwack-boom-bang action flick that heightened America's and Hollywood's awareness of the marketability of Asian superstars. Flash forward a few years later and now we have directors like Ang Lee and John Woo making movies, and stars like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Yun-Fat kicking down doors, using their fist of fury, and making a general mess out of bad guys everywhere. In 1997, Chow Yun-Fat starred in his first Hollywood action flick with Oscar winner Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite) in director Antoine Fuqua's The Replacement Killers. Originally released on a mostly bare bones edition a few years back, The Replacement Killers surfaces once again in a new "special edition" care of Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
When crime lord Mr. Wei's criminal son is killed by a dedicated police officer (Michael Rooker, Cliffhanger), he enlists John Lee (Yun-Fat), professional assassin, to avenge his son's death. However, John Lee suddenly gets a case of the "morals" and decides that he doesn't want to finish the job. Betraying Mr. Wei ends up being a bad health move for Lee; after he ditches the job, Mr. Wei plans to go after Lee's family who are living in China. Frantic to get back to his homeland to protect his family, Lee attempts to get a forged passport from Meg (Sorvino), a shady woman who runs a forging business out of her apartment. After being tracked down and nearly assassinated at Meg's New York apartment, Lee and Meg flee to safer ground. Now being tracked by Wei's "replacement killers" (title coincidence? I think NOT!), Meg and Lee must figure out a way to stay one step ahead of Wei's armies and bring down this crime boss for good!
Knowing very little about this movie, I decided to tool around the internet and see what the general consensus was. I was a little shocked to learn that The Replacement Killers isn't a highly regarded movie. Fans of Chow Yun- Fat seemed to be disappointed by his first Hollywood effort. While I'm a fan of martial arts action movies, I wouldn't really consider myself a "connoisseur." I've seen the Rush Hour movies, a bunch of Jet Li flicks, and Murder By Death. (Okay, so that's not a martial arts movie. But it does have Peter Sellers as an Asian man. Close enough?) Popping in The Replacement Killers, I anticipated some good action and a silly story. I wasn't disappointed.
On one level, The Replacement Killers is an entertaining, brainless action movie. Most of the performers play the material with the deadpan style that's needed for a movie like this (unless you're Bruce Willis, you're apparently not allowed to have fun in action movies). On the other hand, the script is about as loose as they come—riddled with clichés and obvious plot turns, it's apparent that a group of monkeys could have churned out this screenplay in less than two days (and this was executive produced by John Woo no less!).
The important question is this: Does The Replacement Killers deliver in the action department The answer is yes. I was enthralled with the action sequences and enjoyed watching Chow Yun-Fat smoothly dispose of his enemies. Yun-Fat displays a super coolness that makes me think with the right script he might be the next Jackie Chan, only with a harder edge. Sadly, Mira Sorvino doesn't fare as well. Playing with the time honored "hooker with a heart of gold" tradition (except this time she's a document forger), Sorvino comes off as way to sarcastic and cutesy for her own good. Michael Rooker as Wei's nemesis does the best that he can with his limited role. The rest of the cast is made up of no-name actors and tough guys carrying firearms (save for a creepy looking Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot) as Wei's right-hand man).
If The Replacement Killers goes spectacularly wrong in any one area, it's that the script lacks any real punch or characterization. Slipping into auto-action drive, The Replacement Killers goes from one scene to the next with typical Hollywood bravado. I've never seen John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat's Hard Boiled or The Killer, but from what I understand they are dazzling examples of filmmaking with great scripts, characters and action. The Replacement Killers gets only one out of three right. But what it gets right, it gets right well.
The Replacement Killers: Special Edition is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Columbia has done a fine job of making sure that this transfer looks crisp, clean, and nearly free of any defects or imperfections. With vivid colors and evenly saturated black levels, this transfer is very detailed with only the slightest amount of edge enhancement showing up. Overall, this is a great looking image.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. This is a very nice sounding mix that utilizes a lot of directional sounds. The gunfights and explosions are all evenly mixed through both the rear and front speakers, and the soundtrack displays a nice range of spaciousness that should give your home theater system a hefty workout. All aspects of the dialogue, effects, and music are free of any distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Portuguese.
Presented on DVD for a second time, this new "special edition" of The Replacement Killers features some newly produced supplements starting with a commentary track by director Antoine Fuqua. Fuqua discusses in length how he came to direct this project (producer Jerry Bruckheimer was so impressed by his "Dangerous Minds" video that he personally lobbied for Fuqua to direct), what his thoughts are on Chow Yun-Fat (loves him!), and other stories about the production and script.
Next up is a short HBO Making-Of Featurette titled "Where The Action Is," a promotional spot that features interviews with producer Matthew Baer, director Fuqua, and others. This is a very quick piece that doesn't add much to one's knowledge about the film. The more in-depth "Chow Yun-Fat Goes Hollywood" is practically a love letter to Yun-Fat with everyone and their mothers saying the same thing: "Chow Yun-Fat is COOL!" Featuring interviews with lots of cast and crew members, film critics and other Hollywood folks (as well as Yun-Fat himself), this is basically a 20-minute retrospective on Yun-Fat's career including his work with John Woo and his ascent into the Hollywood mainstream.
Five deleted scenes are available in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen presented in very rough from. Actually, there is only one deleted scene available and four extended scenes. The only scene that provides any true insight into the characters is the deleted scene that discusses the fate of John Lee's father. Otherwise, these are all pretty dispensable. Also included is an out-of-place alternate ending that was smartly dropped from the final cut.
Finally there are the usual theatrical trailers for The Replacement Killers, the Jet Li movie The One and that "other" Chow Yun-Fat vehicle Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger, and a few selected filmographies on Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino, and director Antoine Fuqua.
I guess I'm kind of a lunkhead, 'cause I liked this movie. Big booms and bangs make Judge Patrick happy man. Me go back to cave and eat meat off stick.
Free to go because I was entertained, and that's all I wanted from this film! Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Director Antoine Fuqua
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