The Replacement Killers

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

February 6, 1998


The opening frames of The Replacement Killers indicate what the rest of the movie is like. In these scenes, Hong Kong star Chow Yun-Fat menacingly struts across the screen, ready to neutralize some unfortunate thug. As the opening credits roll, Chow and his lone pistol manage to decimate an entire nightclub full of gangsters. The moment is violent, not terribly plausible and presented with a flashy but fascinating manner. In short, it's a lot like the movies Chow made before he came to the U.S.

This time around Chow plays John Lee, a prodigious Chinese assassin who finds his latest assignment unusually distasteful. His boss, Mr. Wei (Kenneth Tsang), orders him to kill a policeman's seven-year-old son. John refuses, and his brief fit of morality has dire consequences. He reluctantly teams up with a tough forger (Mira Sorvino) and the two of them battle legions of Mr. Wei's assassins (led by a delightfully creepy Jürgen Prochnow), turning dozens of seemingly innocent locations into combat zones.

Chow became a major star in Asia for appearing in dozens of movies like this one, and it's easy to see why. His screen presence is as imposing as one of the figures on Mount Rushmore. Nonetheless, his face is remarkably expressive. Even if he hardly says a word (he's quiet even in movies where he speaks his native language), he can do more with a gesture or by raising an eyebrow than most actors can with reams of dialogue. Chow is worth catching even if his films lack the grace of his performances.

Novice director Antoine Fuqua (who's best know for helming the video for Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise) has obviously watched a lot of his leading man's flicks because he perfectly captures the operatic style of the John Woo movies Chow starred in. Characters don't walk across the screen; they glide, twirl and leap like ballet dancers. The screen is saturated with bright, gaudy colors, and the action (including a cataclysmic shootout in a car wash) is relentless.

It's too bad there wasn't much room for a story. The script credited to Ken Sanzel is thin and unconvincing. While Fuqua's pyrotechnics usually compensate, The Replacement Killers takes Herculean effort to believe. Many of Mr. Wei's killers have mastered the art of looking mean, but they haven't learned that it's safer to kill someone if you don't take turns attacking your victims. In addition, Chow and Sorvino come across well individually, but there's little chemistry between them. If the two had a stronger rapport, the movie's lapses in logic wouldn't seem so obvious.

The Replacement Killers will probably appeal to Chow's fans, but it might not have what it takes to win him new ones (R). Rating: 6.



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