Fulltime Killer (2001)

Directed by: Johnnie To & Wai Ka-Fai
Written by: Wai Ka-Fai & Joseph O'Bryan
Producers: Johnnie To, Wai Ka-Fai & Andy Lau
Starring: Andy Lau, Takashi Sorimachi, Simon Yam, Kelly Lin & Cherrie Ying

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2002:
Best Film Editing (David M. Richardson)

O (Takeshi Sorimachi) and Tok (Andy Lau) are the best and effective hitmen on the market, in their own different ways. O is the clean and effective one while Tok likes to show off and often go out with a bang when it comes to his assignments. What Tok wants most though is to go face to face with O to determine which one is the number 1 killer in the business...

To make a movie based on the novel by Edmond Pang (director of Men Suddenly In Black and You Shoot, I Shoot) doesn't seem like a bad idea on paper but visualizing the content is a different matter. Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai did have a go at it but it seems like they only wanted to represent the book visually, nothing else. What that has resulted in is a movie with a few great action set pieces but with a narrative structure that pulls us viewers in all kinds of directions...a bad thing in this movie. Many filmmakers in and outside of Hong Kong never dare to do anything other than according to blueprint 1A, so I welcome an alternative way of telling a story, like in Fulltime Killer.

Early on we're pretty clearly shown the basic characteristics of our two main characters. Takeshi Sorimachi's opening scene and subsequent killing in the trainstation is a really atmospheric and a wonderfully stylish scene which sets the tone of what could've been a great movie. The use of slow motion of course reminds us of the movies of John Woo but what differs it slightly is the sound design. I don't know if it's more realistic or not but the more mute gun sounds creates a very nice tone to the killings themselves and it certainly fits the character of O.

When Andy Lau's wild and whacky introduction is over we have seen a very obvious reference to Terminator 2. A few scenes later Tok is talking about how much he loves movies and a Robert Rodriguez reference comes next. This was cute and if the filmmakers would've stopped these references there, then I wouldn't be writing this paragraph. Later on Tok is browsing in the videostore Kelly Lin works in and he's wearing rubber masks of different American presidents (as in Point Break). There are no logical reasons for doing these movie references other than to show that the directors have seen these movies. It could've worked better if they were more subtle or better yet, not there at all.

After additional character introductions the movie spends more time with one or two of the characters, something which is suppose to evoke more depth and interest. That worked well up until the point Kelly Lin's character suddenly has decided to join Tok for a night at the movies. Why did she suddenly do that?! An explanation is given later on in the movie but it should've been more clear at first sight and therefore we question her motivations all through the relationship they're developing. I guess the directors were busy coming up with cool movie references that they forgot to make sense of certain things. When it then comes to character development, the directors try and try to infuse some depth but there is nothing really here that is new and original about their backgrounds. I don't demand a movie to always be fresh and new but it needs to be done in an interesting way and that is not the case here.

The casting had some potential but unfortunately only one could do something with the material at hand and that is Japanese actor Takashi Sorimachi. He really looks the part of O and has the charisma to bring the character to life. The script by Wai Ka-Fai and Joseph O'Bryan doesn't give the character of O very much but in the hands of Taskashi Sorimachi he becomes more interesting.

Andy Lau has shown a few times that he can somewhat act if he tries (his performance in A Fighter's Blues was pretty good) but here he seems to rely only on his good looks and doesn't really show any solid acting or depth. Again his character is very lifeless already on the script paper so I don't solely blame Andy for the performance he gives here.

I was really hoping for a good performance out of Simon Yam here but he can't escape the fact that his cop role is one we've seen many, many times in movies. His part contains some truly cringing dialogue and the clichés are painfully obvious. But sometimes a terrific actor like Simon can't do anything more than what is written. His acting may have been better if he had been allowed to speak Cantonese, something which leads us into the choice of languages...

Fulltime Killer actually employs fairly equal amounts of Cantonese, English and Japanese dialogue. This is of course done to lure in the international market but also to create a realism, since our characters are from different Asian countries. Good thinking but again especially the English dialogue is so painfully bad that I sort of wished they just dubbed it into Cantonese instead.

Technically this movie rates very high. The almost burning cinematography works very well and the different action scenes are pretty well choreographed. Among the highlights are the mentioned trainstation sequence and the big shoot-out between the police, O and Tok. The latter scene doesn't weigh up the movie since it soon once again takes a failed turn in it's narrative. When we eventually make it to the end I was hoping for the movie to blow me away with a killer ending shoot-out. Sadly all during this scene I was hoping for the movie to end, which is not a good sign.

Fulltime Killer had moments which could have been enough for me to consider it a decent actionfilm. But because of several failed aspects this movie gets no recommendation from me.

The DVD:

The Deltamac dvd presentation is one of the better ones I've seen of a Hong Kong movie lately. Mainly in terms of extras but more on that below. The 1.85:1 aspect ratio is preserved and the movie looks sharp throughout, as expected for such a recent movie. Specs and marks show up on a few occasions though. The lack of anamorphic enhancement is slightly disappointing but not all HK dvd companies have jumped on that wagon yet.

The disc has Cantonese and Mandarin audio options and Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. Overall the track was a well made affair. The mentioned sound design makes the track seem held back but I thought this worked very well. Surrounds are used nicely for ambience and music so all in all this was a pleasant sound experience.

The English subtitles are very well done but it translates all dialogue including the English one. Separate subtitles for only English, Cantonese and Japanese dialogue is a bit too much too expect from a HK dvd I guess. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Under the special features menu we find a more than the usual amount of extras for a HK dvd. Behind The Scenes offers 23 minutes of unsubtitled raw video footage from the set. This is pretty cool but get tiresome when we have to watch the same shot being done over and over again. But hey, that's what movies are like to make.

The Making Of runs for 25 minutes but has no subtitles so it's only useful for some additional behind the scenes footage.

The Photo Gallery consists of 20 stills from the movie and is nothing you'll flip through more than once.

There's also a biography on co-director Johnnie To which has some basic info but the best part is the listing of awards and nominations his movies have gotten over the years. Also included are short notes on Andy Lau's company Teamwork Motion Pictures Limited, character profiles and the theatrical trailer.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson