Just because a genre is tired and predictable, that doesn't mean you still cannot tell a good story or find some entertaining avenue to keep it alive. The HK hip, slick, gunplay killer film is one such genre. But directors Johnny To (Heroic Trio, Running Out of Time) and Wai Ka-Fai (Peace Hotel) mange to keep it alive thanks to the decent story of two opposed hit men, enigmatically played by Andy Lau and Takashi Sorimachi, torn in terms of their reputation and the heart of a woman drawn to their dangerous lifestyle.
The brazen contract killer Tok (Lau, Infernal Affairs, Days of Being Wild) is literally gunning for the underworlds top assassin, O (Sorimachi). While Tok enjoys public displays during his killings and has a fetishists love of action films, O is more solemn and haunted, carrying out his assignments with efficiency and no pizzazz. Likewise in his love life, O cannot seem to make a connection with Chin (Kelly Lin, Legend of Zu, My Left Eye Sees Ghosts) the girl he hires to clean his false apartment, silently observing her from his real apartment across the street. So, when Tok walks into her day job at a video store and strikes up a relationship with her, it is his first step in drawing O's attention. As the two killers get closer to a showdown, they are both being tracked by a dogged Interpol officer (Simon Yam, Bullet in the Head, Dr. Lamb) determined to discover their identities and bring them to justice.
As I said, it is a tired genre, but Fulltime Killer's success is in its inventiveness and self conscious knowledge of this fact by making references slick actioners like Point Break and Leon: The Professional. Even the "girl who cleans the killers apartment and knows he's an assassin" seems directly lifted from the first segment of new waver Wong Kar Wai's Fallen Angels. It engages in all of the stylistic excess we've seen before, action with the John Wooish slo-mo gracefulness imbued with grit and brutality. It is illogical excess- mid day open street killings set to the tune of classical opera, bullets fly, and the cops never catch the executioner, the kind of film where the style is the substance. Dramatic camera sweeps and squib splatter are as important as the dialogue. Yet, despite it all having been done before, it is pulled off with appropriate panache, a sense of its ludicrousness, and maintains an even level of fun and seriousness.
Equal credit has to go to the actors and their characterizations- each of whom (O, Tok, Chin, and Yam's Interpol officer) get to narrate the story at one point. Lau waltzes, crashes through the film with an electric swagger and a constant smile. In playing a cool killer, who wants to be a cool movie killer, he ends up coming across like a complete sociopath, this extremely disturbed leather clad grandstander with no morality whatsoever. He's the Columbine kid, the already disturbed individual who acts out his fantasy like he's part of a movie or game. Naturally then, Sorimachi's O has to be the brooding opposite, the stone faced, remorseful assassin haunted by his deeds and wanting to get out of the only thing he's been good at. Kelly Lin, aside from being yummy, does well with her character that has the biggest stretch in personality, at first coming across as shy and demure, yet we soon realise she has a kinship with the killers when she is in no way turned off by their violent lifestyle and seeks out that excitement and their affection. Yam likewise takes a turn, from the standard cop out to catch the killers, to disgraced officer determined to capture their story.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The transfer here is a disappointment. Despite being a new film (2001), the print looks worn and washed out, casting a pall over the film making it look cheap. In the extras and the trailer on this DVD, the film looks much better, cleaner, more vibrant. Fleshtones and color are diluted, likewise the contrast is a bit too gray, overall it is just whitewashed and in need of adjusting your color and contrast to make it look better. If your player has an enhanced setting to deepen the blacks and sharpness, I suggest using it. I still come from the bootleg school, so I have those forgiving tinges. It is weak but watchable. Still, for the discerning buyer, I'd say check around and see if the various other region editions are worth importing.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1 Stereo options with optional English, Spanish, or Chinese subtitles. While mainly Cantonese, there is quite a bit of Japanese and English spoken. I'd say its evenly split between half Cantonese and half English/Japanese. This actually brings up a weird problem- the subs stop when the English parts come up, and although Lau and Yam do an okay job, English isn't their strong suit. I found myself going back here and there, having to retread their lines and listen closer.
Dialogue is centered with crackling gunfire and music filling out the sides. Compared to Hollywood blockbuster action sound, this production pales and will seem lighter. While it lacks the punch of higher scale action productions, in the realm of HK film it is quite good and fans should be pleased.
Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailer--- "Making of" Featurette (25 mins). Nearly every aspect of actual filming, the germ of the idea, the actors, tackling the stunts, ends with a lighthearted reel of outtakes.--- Behind the Scenes (23 mins). Asian film buffs will know, actual behind the scenes video footage, no narration, just video of various takes on action scenes and a nice one of Lau having trouble tackling his Japanese dialogue.--- Cast Bios for Andy Lau, Johnny To, and Takashi Sorimachi--- Palm Previews for The Believer, Scratch and The Last Minute--- Weblinks.
Conclusion: Finicky DVD fans may want to be wary of the anemic visual transfer, but it does deliver in other areas, sound and extras. It is an entertaining implausible action film, proof that even in the exploit-a-genre-until-its-dead-in-the-ground realm of HK film, the right marriage of style, character, and story can always succeed and produce a decent action yarn.