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Fulltime Killer (Chuen jik sat sau) (18)



Review by: Mark King | Rating: Two

WAI Ka Fai and Johnny To's 2001 movie Fulltime Killer, finally granted a limited release in London on June 27, will be familiar to fans of Asian gangster flicks. It contains all the usual ingredients: slo-mo gunplay, neon-soaked city streets, graphic violence and impossibly stylish hoodlums. Not that it's too clichéd to satisfy. Far from it. Fulltime Killer is a memorable, if flawed, entry to the genre.

The films tells the story of two warring hitmen, O and Tok, who both claim to be Asia's greatest living gun-for-hire. O is the more established killer; the cool-as-ice, thoughtful king to Tok's brash, psychopathic pretender-to-the-throne. Romancing both is Chin, a beautiful shopworker by day and O's cleaner (in the detergent sense rather than that of criminal problem-solver) by night. And chasing both men across countries and capitals are cops Gigi and Lee.

Most of the fun comes not from the police hunt, but from O and Tok's many exchanges - where one pops up, the other follows as surely as night follows day. And, of course, we suspect that one gunman will assuredly die by the final reel while the other will get the girl.

Fulltime Killer is highly derivative (John Woo should, once again, take a bow), but it wears its origins on its sleeve rather than pretending its content is wildly original. From the very beginning characters verbally reference other movies (Point Break, El Mariachi/Desperado, Leon), they go to the cinema to watch yakuza flicks, and one character even works in a video store

This kind of self-awareness adds a post-modern dash to the film which is never fully explored as an idea. Indeed, the filmmakers use a number of gimmicks to try and dazzle us, such as flashbacks, double-bluffs, red herrings and false endings. But they add little aside from confusing the audience in between the many exciting gunfights.

And there are some bravura set-pieces: a kinetic, if initially confusing, shoot-out in an underground station; a thrilling gun battle through the dusty streets of Macau; and a protracted escape from an apartment block teeming with gun-happy police officers.

On the negative side there are problems that fans of the genre will be all too familiar with: a confusing number of Asian languages all clamouring for our attention; some incoherent plotting and a thread of slapstick humour that adds a bit of fun to the film while simultaneously draining it of tension.

So who will like this film? Certainly any fan of Woo's The Killer or the Pang brothers' Bangkok: Dangerous will appreciate Fulltime Killer. For me, watching Andy Lau's Tok swaggering, slo-mo style, through Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore while ripping people apart with bullets is worth the price of admission alone.

But unlike the likes of Takeshi Kitano's Sonatine and Hana-Bi, Fulltime Killer stumbles because it has no emotional core, despite Simon Yam's decent turn as Gigi, the cop who is driven to the brink of insanity by his hunt for the two hitmen, and Kelly Lin's sporadically affecting Chin.

Ultimately, Fulltime Killer is missing a heart, but it's still a must-see for fans of the genre and anyone who fancies 90 minutes of cool-as-shit, violent action.

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