"I went against Mr. Wei today. There will be consequences." - John Lee
Badass detective kills vindictive crime lord's son during a drug raid. Crime lord hires badass assassin of few words to kill badass detective's son. Badass assassin refuses, so more badass assassins (of no words) are hired to kill him as well as the detective's son. And since there has to be a hot chick involved somehow, throw in a badass document forger with a chip on her shoulder and abusive family past. Together, these unlikely heroes discover the beauty of life through the love of a giving child. Scratch that. They shoot at each other and blow shit up for 96 minutes of video game mayhem.
The Replacement Killers marked the American debut of Hong Kong megastar Chow Yun-Fat as well as the feature film debut of commercial and music video director Antoine Fuqua. The purpose of the film was simple: bring Chow Yun-Fat's trademark action hero persona to American audiences and capitalize on the success. Toward that goal, Fuqua's work is relatively effective, lifting as many elements as possible from previous films to cram The Replacement Killers full of material that showcases Chow's ability. As such, it can't help but be derivative, lacking the creative spark infused into so many of his films by the gunplay master John Woo.
The plot is very straightforward. During a raid, Detective Stan Zedkov (Michael Rooker) is forced to gun down Peter Wei (Chan Yau-Gene), the drug-dealing son of a powerful crime lord Terence Wei (Kenneth Tsang). In response, Wei wants to see Zedkov's own son killed, but specifically within the arms of his crime-fighting father. When the hired assassin John Lee (Chow Yun-Fat) goes to complete the job, he finds his conscience will not let him kill an innocent child, so the quiet killer begins making preparations to return to China to save his own family from the wrath of his former employer. Before he can leave the country, though, he must acquire a forged passport from underground document forger Meg Coburn (Mira Sorvino), and the duo soon find themselves on the run from an endless barrage of gun-toting henchmen, including two "replacement" killers (Til Schweiger and Danny Trejo) brought in to kill pretty much everyone they see.
Fuqua's film is intentionally stylized and over the top. The main characters proceed through the story without any real concern for safety or logic, placing themselves in precarious situations that make for good camera movements and shootout opportunities through some interesting locales. Most of the time, these scenes are quite entertaining, and the producers wisely trimmed much of the exposition from the original release in favor of a tightly packed action extravaganza. This Blu-ray edition, however, includes the extended cut previously released on DVD in 2006, and while we go about 45 minutes before anyone gets too talky, there's a point in that middle portion of the film where it starts to drag a bit.
Sorvino is surprisingly effective in her tough-girl role, just a few years removed from an Oscar-winning performance at the other end of the spectrum, so she handles her dialogue well; but Chow's command of the English language is somewhat lacking at this stop in his career, and it keeps the scenes from fully coming together, despite the obvious chemistry between the two leads. This is certainly an instance where the extended cut doesn't particularly add much, and in some places it detracts. It doesn't help matters that these emotional scenes are scored by heavy-handed Media Ventures (now Remote Control Productions) veteran Harry Gregson-Williams, hammering every cue at us instead of letting the actors work their own magic. What results is a film that almost loses its own identity, dancing dangerously close to a film that tries and fails to be more than it is.
On the whole, though, The Replacement Killers succeeds at reaching its fairly limited goals. There's a lot of action, plenty of bodies, and very little pretense of anything beyond the shoot-em-up video game it sets out to be. It's not a great film by any means, and not really that high on the list of cheesy action films either, but Chow Yun-Fat is always compelling to observe on screen, and the brief runtime keeps it entertaining enough to work as a mindless diversion.
The Replacement Killers comes to Blu-ray in 1080p with a 2.40:1 aspect ratio and MPEG-4 encoding, and it looks much better than I expected, popping off the screen in a way we don't always see with these catalog titles. This is an often dark film with many underlit interiors and plenty of nighttime reds and blacks, and the detail comes through nicely, showing a genuine value to the high definition treatment. Because of the heavy contrast in some scenes there is a bit of edge haloing, and I noticed what appeared to be some very slight artifacts, but for a film that's almost 10 years old and of little importance, it looks quite good.
The audio is also strong. Available in uncompressed English and Italian PCM 5.1, as well as standard English, Italian, French, and Hungarian 5.1, the mix makes good use of the surround channels, particularly when the bullets start to fly from all directions. It's a very full presentation, and what little dialogue there is finds a nice balance within all the action taking place around it.
Subtitles are provided for the main feature in English, English SDH, Arabic, French, Korean, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Norweigian, Polish, Turkish, Hungarian, Swedish, Italian, Icelandic, Bulgarian, Slovene, Croatian, Romanian, Thai, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Pig Latin (is this joke old yet?). Bonus features are subtitled in English, Italian, Dutch, French, and Korean only. No love for the Croats.
WHISTLES & BELLS:
This Blu-ray release of The Replacement Killers is essentially a port of the 2006 "Extended Edition" DVD, which means it does not include the feature-length commentary by director Antoine Fuqua from the "Special Edition". One might argue that the commentary won't match up with the extra footage between editions, but one might also argue that it's just plain lazy not to try. What is included on this release are two short featurettes.
"Chow Yun-Fat Goes Hollywood" (20:26) is all about the Hong Kong action star himself. It briefly covers his career before the film and spends most of its time focusing on the transition he had to make to be a part of an American movie and the loveable style and grace he brought with him to the set every day. While most of the footage in this piece is very dated, I enjoyed watching it.
"Where the Action Is" (10:09) doesn't add too much additional information than the first featurette. It's more of a fluffy "making of" piece that touches on a few aspects of the production and Antoine Fuqua's overall approach. If you like the film, you may enjoy these, but they're not worth seeking out on their own.
The typical "Coming to Blu-ray" trailer is also attached, as well as Paprika and Vacancy. I assume Sony doesn't include the film's own trailer, because it isn't high definition and doesn't promote the format, but news flash: we already own the player. Give us the trailer.
The Replacement Killers is unapologetically a video game brought to the screen in an attempt to translate Chow Yun-Fat's international megastardom to a American audiences. In many ways it proves entertaining as a check-your-brain action flick, but it does lack the style and flare of Chow's earlier work and strays dangerously close to asking the viewer for emotional involvement with these two-dimensional characters. If you're looking for a brief diversion from more thought-provoking entertainment, The Replacement Killers is a decent source for exploding gunplay, and this Blu-ray presentation looks at sounds great. Still, there's very little substance to be found here and not enough content or bonus material to warrant owning, so I suggest you Rent It.
N.B.: Images in this review exist only to look pretty and are in no way representative of the quality of the high definition transfer