Fulltime Killer (2001) / Action-Thriller
aka Chuen jik sat sau
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive strong violence, some language and brief nudity
Running Time: 102 min.
Cast: Andy Lau, Takashi Sorimachi, Simon Yam, Kelly Lin, Cherrie Ying
Director: Johnny To, Wai Ka Fai
Screenplay: Wai Ka Fai, Joey O'Bryan (based on the novel by Pang Ho-Cheung)
If you ever were looking for an example of a movie that fails because it is too stylized for its own good, I'd recommend Fulltime Killer as a prime choice. It's a shame, too, because anyone who reads my reviews regularly knows I have great respect for Johnny To (The Mission, Running Out of Time) and his style of action movie making. Perhaps it's the fact that he collaborates with Wai Ka Fai (Love on a Diet, Help!!!), with whom he has made several films, for the directorial duties. Wai Ka Fai has helped To write and handle some of his more comedic and romantic projects to better success, however those films are also inconsistent in tone, and aren't as good as a result. Fulltime Killer is not only a success in terms of delivering the action, but the humor, storyline and actors are all appealing as well. In fact, the problem with the film isn't what it lacks in any one department, it's actually the overabundance of everything that keeps this one from ever taking off.
Andy Lau (Century of the Dragon, Armageddon) co-stars as Tok, Asia's up and coming assassin with aspirations to be #1. That title currently belongs to O. (Sorimachi, Yamato), a Japanese hit man who is Tok's exact opposite in terms of style, achieving success with calm and calculation vs. Tok's more flashy, operatic maneuvers. The men each have an Achilles heel, Tok having a brain condition that results in seizures when marked by foaming and vomiting after he sees flickering lights, while O has had problems getting too close to housekeepers, especially in keeping them alive. Things get even dicier among the two men when Tok makes a move on Chin (Lin, Martial Angels), O's newest assistant, entangling the two men further to a showdown for who will reign supreme.
Fulltime Killer has an oft used plot in modern Hong Kong films, in some ways reminiscent of that old American film, The Hustler. The hotshot new guy wants to be the best at all costs and confronts the #1 in the biz, who is calm, cool and collected -- and good at what he does. That's about where the similarities end, of course, and the rest of the film has to live and die around the derivative plot on its own merits. The screenplay is adapted from the book of the same name, but for an adaptation, I'd have to believe this was stripped down quite a bit and altered in many ways, as it's rather threadbare.
The film has its share of fun moments, such as Tok's love of action films, placing hits in the style of Terminator 2, Point Break and The Professional. Lots of over the top action and tongue in cheek references keep the laughs coming, and if anything, makes the film more difficult to like in the end. This is mostly due to the fact that for a fun film, it's also at the same time quite dark and violent, and the resulting effort doesn't mix well. Too many graphic scenes involving eye gouging, bone breakings, and excessive vomiting makes for a tough watch, especially when the film tries to be so lighthearted in other respects. Fulltime Killer also attempts to employ a romance which is never developed well, and when the question as to Chin's loyalty is finally answered, it comes as no surprise where her heart lies.
Fulltime Killer is recommended strictly for undiscriminating action fans, who like a stylish ballet of bullets and funny characters to engage the interest. Fans of Johnny To and Hong Kong films in general may be a bit tepid, as its definitely one of his lesser works, and showcases more of the disappointing style-over-substance noise pollution that has permeated so much Asian cinema in the last five years. Fulltime Killer promises quite a bit, but the error is in the delivery. Remove the word "Full" from the title for more truthful advertising.
©2002 Vince Leo