The Replacement Killers

on February 06, 1998 by Wade Major
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   It's no coincidence that "The Replacement Killers" bears more than a passing resemblance to John Woo's Hong Kong classic "The Killer." What better way, after all, to introduce Asian superstar Chow Yun-Fat to American audiences than by emulating the film that made him an international star?
   Fortunately, "The Replacement Killers" does more than simply mimic "The Killer." Carefully constructed to play to Chow's strengths as both an icon and an actor,"The Replacement Killers" is a dazzlingly slick exercise in action filmmaking that should not only thrill Chow's many devoted fans, but win him legions of new admirers as well.
   As in "The Killer," Chow plays a hit man with a heart whose untimely surge of conscience lands him on the run from both a ruthless former employer ("Supercop's" Kenneth Tsang) and a persistent detective (Michael Rooker). From there, the film follows the prescribed cat-and-mouse formula with Chow's John Lee raining bullets on a seemingly never-ending gauntlet of assassins, leaving a double-digit body count in his wake at every stop. Along for the ride, seemingly to fulfill the obligatory "buddy" formula, is Mira Sorvino's streetwise, tough-chick passport forger, a somewhat thankless role, though ultimately unobjectionable.
   As scripted by ex-cop Ken Sanzel, "The Replacement Killers" would be little more than an average genre exercise if not for the pure magnetism of Chow's persona and a dizzying display of visual virtuosity by first-time director Antoine Fuqua. Best known as the director of the award-winning "Gangsta's Paradise" video, Fuqua makes an absolutely stunning debut here, employing the kind of kinetic fireworks previously associated only with the work of such seminal Hong Kong pioneers as Woo and Ringo Lam. Clearly, Fuqua has done his homework, creating a film that bears a more striking resemblance to classic Hong Kong cinema than anything yet produced in Hollywood, even by Hong Kong directors.
   Wisely keeping Sanzel's sometimes embarrassingly stilted dialogue to a bare minimum, Fuqua has made "The Replacement Killers" a primarily visual exercise, a choice which not only shows off his own considerable skills, but spares Chow the ordeal of having to deal with mouthfuls of English dialogue in his first Hollywood film.
   Precisely what Chow brings to the Hollywood action genre cannot be understated. A cool charismatic with the explosive fury of a typhoon, Chow represents a welcome shift from the wiseacre jokesters of recent years. Thankfully, audiences are about to discover a long overdue alternative.    Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino, Jurgen Prochnow, Michael Rooker and Kenneth Tsang. Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Written by Ken Sanzel. Produced by Brad Grey and Bernie Brillstein. A Columbia release. Action/thriller. Rated R for strong violence and for language. Running time: 92 min.
Tags: Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino, Jurgen Prochnow, Michael Rooker, Kenneth Tsang, Directed by Antoine Fuqua, Written by Ken Sanzel, Produced by Brad Grey, Bernie Brillstein, A Columbia release, Action/thriller, visual, jokesters, streetwise, international, exercise
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