Review by: Mark King | Rating:
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
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
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.