Film Review: The Replacement Killers (1998)

Release Date: February 6th, 1998
Directed by: Antoine Fuqua
Written by: Ken Sanzel
Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Jürgen Prochnow, Danny Trejo, Clifton Collins Jr.

Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, WCG Entertainment Productions, Columbia Pictures, 87 Minutes


“Hostage etiquette: kidnapper pays the incidentals.” – Meg Coburn

I haven’t seen this since it was in theaters twenty years ago. I liked it back in the day, especially because it gave American audiences a look at the great Chow Yun-fat, a guy I loved in several Hong Kong gangster films. Plus, back in the late ’90s, I was crushing hard on Mira Sorvino. I probably still am, truth be told.

This is a pretty fast paced film with a fairly short running time. But that’s good, as it doesn’t really let up once it gets going, which is almost immediately.

The story follows John Lee, a hitman hired by a Chinese mob boss to kill the young child of a police officer who killed the boss’ criminal son. Lee has the young kid in his crosshairs but decides not to murder the child. In doing so, he is marked by the mob boss for betrayal all while replacement killers are hired to kill Lee and finish his mission. Fearing for his own family’s safety, Lee goes to Meg, a master at forging passports. All Lee wants is to get back to China to protect his loved ones. While at Meg’s place, he gets her caught up in his drama and she is then pulled along for the ride. They have to try and survive and also do everything they can to prevent the cop’s kid from being killed.

This film was made early in Antoine Fuqua’s career. He did a good job with it, as it matches the tone and intensity of a lot of those Hong Kong gangster films that Chow was in, especially the ones directed by John Woo.

In addition to Chow Yun-fat and Mira Sorvino, we are also treated to the talents of Michael Rooker, who excels in action movies. Rooker plays the cop and the father of the kid who is the mob boss’ target. While he gives the heroes some difficulty, initially, he changes his tune when he realizes their situation and sees them risk their lives for his kid.

This isn’t close to being the best Chow Yun-fat movie out there but it is still pretty damn enjoyable and a great English language vehicle to help make the guy a household name in the English speaking markets.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: City On Fire (1987)

Also known as: Lóng hǔ fēng yún (Hong Kong)
Release Date: February 13th, 1987 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Ringo Lam
Written by: Ringo Lam
Music by: Teddy Robin Kwan
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Danny Lee, Sun Yueh, Carrie Ng, Roy Cheung

Cinema City & Films Co., 105 Minutes


City On Fire is the film that many people accused Quentin Tarantino of ripping off for his debut picture Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino was attacked by some for lacking originality with his first movie. Having now watched City On Fire, there are certainly some strong similarities but I don’t see Tarantino as a thief. Besides, he is known for his films being homages to his influences. Whether that is a show of respect or straight up plagiarism is up to each individual filmgoer that has seen his films and the ones that influenced his work.

This film helped the career of Chow Yun-fat and it kept the momentum going after his big breakthrough role in John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, a year earlier. This film also helped cement Chow Yun-fat in the Hong Kong crime genre that worked well for him for many years. He has always been associated with some of the best Triad action thrillers of 1980s and 1990s Hong Kong cinema and really is the face of that pivotal and historical era that saw Chinese filmmakers evolve beyond the kung fu flicks that ruled the 1970s.

The story of City On Fire sees Chow Yun-fat’s Ko Chow sent undercover by his superior, Inspector Lau. He is sent in to bring a syndicate to justice after a violent jewelry robbery. The gang is led by Fu (played by Danny Lee). Ko Chow gains the syndicate’s trust and forms a strong bond with Fu. Ko Chow is then pursued by the police due to his association with Fu’s gang. The police are initially unaware that he is an undercover agent sent in by Lau. Ko Chow’s ethics are then challenged, as he wants to do what is right but he also has a friendship with the criminal Fu.

Reservoir Dogs comparisons aside, City On Fire was influential to a lot of films. It certainly lays a groundwork that was more meticulously explored in Infernal Affairs, which went on to be remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed. It also influenced John Woo’s 1989 international hit The Killer, which saw Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee in a role reversal situation, as Chow plays a hitman that develops a strong friendship with a cop played by Lee.

I don’t feel that City On Fire is as good as the John Woo crime dramas starring Chow Yun-fat. It is still a solid movie throughout, but it feels a bit rushed storywise and it comes off a bit hokey at times, despite its high level of violence and serious nature. My issues with it could be due to seeing a version that had pretty awful dubbing. It was a strange experience seeing Chinese mobsters talk with proper British accents and the simplistic dialogue made it pretty clear that a lot of details weren’t properly communicated in the English language version.

It is a nice film to look at. The cinematography was well handled. The scene in the cemetery really stands out as being the visual pinnacle of the film. Also, the shootouts and action sequences were gritty in all the right ways.

Ultimately, City On Fire is a good piece of Hong Kong filmmaking. While slightly below the level of the great Woo films of its era, it has a well deserved reputation and went on to inspire a lot of other artists behind the camera.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: The Killer (1989)

Release Date: July 6th, 1989 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: John Woo
Written by: John Woo
Music by: Lowell Lo
Cast: Chow Yun-fat, Danny Lee, Sally Yeh, Chu Kong, Kenneth Tsang, Shing Fui-On

Film Workshop, 110 Minutes


I have been taking an online course in Hing Kong cinema. So of course John Woo would have to be a subject within the course. There are several of his films that are recommended for the section on him but I decided to watch The Killer. It is a film that I have heard a great deal of praise for, over the years. Also, I have seen a dozen or so of his movies but still hadn’t gotten my hands on this one. So I felt the need to rectify that.

The film stars long-time Woo collaborator Chow Yun-fat. He plays Ah Jong, a Triad assassin for fire. Philosophically, he only wants to kill bad men but that ideal is challenged throughout his career and when we meet him, he is a very conflicted man.

His internal battle is then compounded by his accidental injuring of a singer during a shootout in a restaurant. The woman is blinded and he feels tremendous guilt. He then shadows her, as a sort of protector, one night saving her from a couple of rapists. They develop a friendship but Ah Jong doesn’t reveal who he is. He then takes one final job. With the earnings of his final hit, he plans to pay for the woman’s surgery that can hopefully bring back her eyesight.

The mission is a setup however, and we end up seeing the conflicted hitman have to deal with the mess that is his life. Also being chased by a very vigilant cop, Ah Jong must put things right and find peace for his soul. The film climaxes with an awe-inspiring shootout at a church between Ah Jong, the cop and a massive gang of Triad killers.

The Killer, having just seen it once, has become my favorite John Woo movie up to this point. It has a heavy, philosophical plot and while the picture features an immense amount of violence, it also has a hefty helping of tenderness. The film finds itself in conflict, similar to what Ah Jong is going through. Woo perfectly embodies both aspects of this conflict visually and narratively.

Chow Yun-fat and Danny Lee also have the sort of chemistry that you don’t see in these types of films very often. While they have a natural rivalry with one being a criminal and one being a cop, there is a strong buddy connection. The way that connection plays out and evolves throughout the picture is fantastic. Two men from two different walks of life are able to unify, both blurring their own lines for the greater good.

I loved this film and it really made me want to watch more of John Woo’s older Hong Kong work.

Rating: 9/10