The Replacement Killers (1998) – Antoine Fuqua

Antonine Fuqua’s 1998 actioner The Replacement Killers has quite the pedigree, it not only has Fuqua in the director’s chair, an executive producer credit for John Woo, but also stars Hong Kong cinema icon Chow Yun-Fat, the fantastic Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Jurgen Prochnow, Danny Trejo, Til Schweiger, and Clifton Collins Jr.

John Lee (Chow Yun-Fat) is damned good at what he does. He’s an assassin for a Chinese crime lord, Terence Wei (Kenneth Tsang), but when he decides not to complete his latest assignment, killing the young son of a cop (Rooker) who in the line of duty killed Wei’s criminal son, Lee finds himself on the run and needs a way out.

Not to mention getting back to China before Wei can have his own family killed for Lee’s failures. To get out of the country, he’s going to need help, and a passport, enter the best forger for such things, Meg (Sorvino). Unfortunately, the pair get caught up in events as Wei wants the original hit carried out, as well as the death of John.

So he calls in the replacement killers (Trejo and Schweiger). Buckle up, because the bullets are going to fly!

Fuqua doesn’t quite emulate the gun-fu that proliferates Asian cinema, and though his camera always seems to be in motion, it doesn’t seem to be quite as kinetic, or balletic, as it needs to be for the action sequences that pack the film. Especially as it seemed that he was trying to bring a level of Hong Kong action style to mainstream American films.

Admittedly not everything is going to translate, but the visual language of film, the motion of the camera, and the frame, it could have. Especially with a Hollywood budget behind it.

Chow Yun-Fat is, as always, awesome. He brings a cool edge to his character, he’s a professional, respects the rules of the game, and has a moral code, unlike some of those in the game around him. Sorvino is jaw-droppingly stunning and is fantastic to watch in the action sequences alongside Chow. The two make a great team together, and it’s unfortunate that the romantic connection and character development between the two was dropped.

They are very cool together.

Just a little more in the way of character beats, and a more frenetic camera could have made this a real standout action flick, and helped create a real bridge between Hong Kong and Hollywood action films, but it never quite gets there.

Instead, this film could be seen as a bit of a primer for American audiences on some of the styles and storytelling methods they could expect to find in Asian action films, and perhaps that drew a few viewers in and led them to explore films they may have otherwise missed altogether.

The Replacement Killers is good but could have been great.

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