The Replacement Killers (1998)

The Replacement Killers (1998)- * * *

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Starring: Chow-Yun Fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Kenneth Tsang, Jurgen Prochnow,  Patrick Kilpatrick, Til Schwiger, Clifton Gonzalez-Gonzalez (aka) Collins Jr., James Lew, Al Leong, and Danny Trejo

John Lee (Yun-Fat) is an expert marksman/gunman/assassin/gun enthusiast who works for crime lord Mr. Wei (Tsang). All his life he’s followed the orders of his superiors, but when his latest hit is meant to be carried out not just on a hardworking cop named Zedkov (Rooker), but also his seven-year-old son, Lee finds he can’t pull the trigger. In order to disappear and get back to his family in China, he needs forged documents, so he goes to see Meg Coburn (Sorvino), an expert in such things. 

Soon enough, Wei sends many waves of goons to kill off the unlikely duo. When an underboss, Kogan (Prochnow), can’t kill them fast enough, Wei sends for “The Replacement Killers” - played in the movie by Schweiger and Trejo - to kill not just Zedkov but also Lee and Coburn. This all sets the stage for lots and lots of gun shooting. Who will get killed and who will get replaced? Find out today...

It seems pretty obvious, especially looking back now, that The Replacement Killers was an attempt to bring John Woo-style action to Hollywood. Woo did act as executive producer, after all, but did not direct the film. That, in this case, went to Fuqua, and this was his first feature-length production after a career making MTV videos in the 90’s, and it really, really shows. 

There is a lot of style and flash, but not much of a narrative structure, as you might expect from a background like that, and certainly on someone’s first attempt. (Evidently there was more character development at one point, but it was left on the cutting room floor). If this all sounds like negative criticism, it’s not. The movie is lightweight and entertaining, and without a doubt it delivers the action goods.

Chow-Yun Fat is one of the coolest cats around, and no one looks more awesome shooting guns or putting on sunglasses. In the 90’s there was an attempt by Hollywood to also put Jackie Chan in theaters, and that was appreciated, but seemingly did not last long. We, of course, enjoyed seeing Operation Condor (1997) and Jackie Chan’s First Strike (1996) on the big screen. If it could be done with Kung Fu, why not Gun-Fu? And who better to play the classic “killer with a conscience” than Chow-Yun Fat? With endless gun battles and slo-mo moments (slo-moments?...actually that would be misleading as there are no slow moments in the film), all set to the sounds of the prerequisite late-90’s electronica such as Tricky, The Crystal Method and Death in Vegas (apparently Portishead was unavailable), how can you lose? If you’re a fan of action setpieces (and who isn’t), you don’t.

Such things as described above were tried unsuccessfully before, i.e. Killing Time (1998), but, thankfully, The Replacement Killers gets the simply-plotted assassin shooting movie right. There’s enough cannon fodder for the good guys to shoot at and it never really lets up. 

Backing up Fat and Sorvino is an impressive cast of Comeuppance favorites: Michael Rooker as the cop, Danny Trejo as one of the Replacement Killers, the fascinatingly-named Clifton Gonzalez-Gonazalez (AKA Clifton Collins Jr.)  is the “Machine Gun Joe” character, Patrick Kilpatrick as a baddie, Jurgen Prochnow as another baddie (looking a lot like Robert Davi here), and, in blink-or-you’ll-miss them goon roles, action mainstays James Lew and Al Leong. And at only 84 minutes without the credits, it all comes in at a good running time. More movies - hell, ALL movies - should be 84 minutes. Kudos to the production for a reasonable length here.

So while wags may complain that there’s not much substance and the whole thing is like an extended music video, those people are missing the point. There’s no time to waste as The Replacement Killers remains fast-paced, enjoyable fun.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 

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