a critiQal film review The Replacement Killers (1998)

Plot: John Lee (Yun-Fat) is a hitman for drug lord Mr. Wei (Tsang). But, when his conscience prevents him from completing his latest assignment, he becomes the one with a price on his head. Enlisting the unwilling help of passport forger Meg (Sorvino), Lee desperately searches for a way to return to China and save his family from Mr. Wei's wrath.

540 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 42s)

After Training Day came out a few years back, suddenly Antoine Fuqua was the hot new name for directing films. Knowing I’d heard that name before, I went into my collection and pulled out an old favorite, The Replacement Killers, directed by Antoine Fuqua. Taking a break from converting the pages of critiQal to CSS (a process that seems to be never-ending), I decided to sit down and revisit Antoine’s first feature, The Replacement Killers.

The Replacement Killers marked the entrance into American films by famed overseas action star Chow Yun-Fat. Having already been a huge success in Hong Kong and the rest of the world, Yun-Fat decided to make his entrance onto the American film scene as memorable as he could – in fact, he waited three years for this script. His only hurdle was the language barrier, which he easily overcomes.

Pairing him with Sorvino seems at first to be a bit odd, but the two work very well together. Sorvino actually expands her acting skills by taking on this role that’s a tougher character than what she’s used to, and she does a very impressive job with it. Seeing her in The Replacement Killers makes the viewer want to go see what else she’s done (unfortunately, nothing easily comparable to this film).

The action sequences are impressive. While Jet Li turned martial arts into more of an art form, Yun-Fat in The Replacement Killers gave action (especially two-handed gun toting) a smoothness. This smooth action style with a hint of ballet was taken to new heights, literally, in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), but Yun-Fat in The Replacement Killers started it all. His graceful movements and his cat-like reflexes turn the action sequences into a dance – and Yun-Fat is the lord of this dance.

Director Fuqua, a newcomer to filmmaking at this point, has evidently learned from the mistakes of his predecessors by using slow-motion sparingly in The Replacement Killers. He uses slow-motion not to slow the action down, but instead, right before an action sequence. With this technique, he whets the audiences appetite for the action – then makes them wait just a bit, so when the action begins, it’s welcomed that much more. It’s a great way to build anticipation, and is a much better use of slow-motion than what it’s typically used for (slowing down the action during the sequence).

Fuqua also does a great job of combining many different types of music on the soundtrack for The Replacement Killers, providing a unique mood for each sequence, plus imprinting them more effectively on the viewer’s memory (just an example – if you don’t have “she makes me want to die…” accompanied by a deep bass beat running through your head after this film, I’d be surprised).

While some may say The Replacement Killers isn’t Yun-Fat’s best work, most will agree it’s one of his best American films. While nothing can replace John Woo’s overseas film The Killer, this film does a good job of coming in 2nd. If you haven’t seen The Killer, be sure to check that one out (if you can find it), since this film obviously pays homage to that film.

Even if you haven’t seen The Killer, you’ll enjoy The Replacement Killers.

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