Chow Yun-Fat and Miro Sorvino fire back at Lethal Crime!



When the unrelenting actioner The Replacement Killers shot through theaters in early February of 1998, I recall being thoroughly unimpressed.  Violent Hong Kong-style kineticism had been having a moment, but that moment was quickly careening to a close.  Still, the notion that international gun-fu star Chow Yun-Fat could be on target for Hollywood success was a worthwhile hope.  Although getting no younger even at this phase of his career, Chow nevertheless brought a staunch, rugged invincible man-of-action presence wrapped up in an impeccable matinee-idol masculinity we used to take for granted.  

All these years later, Chow Yun-Fat remains the central glue that holds The Replacement Killers together.  Scuttlebutt of the day had the still-unknown music video director Antoine Fuqua locking horns with the studio (Columbia) over everything from murky character motivations (fair) to a love story that got jettisoned (sounds like for racist preview audiences reasons) to an overall lack of confidence in his footage.  Add to those not-insignificant headaches the fact that Fuqua’s leading man spoke very little English, and you’ve got a Troubled production with the old capital “Troub”.  In the end, even hacked down to less than ninety minutes (with opening and closing credits), The Replacement Killers still boasted that it held the record for most bullets fired in an American film.  (Who keeps track of these statistics, anyway?)

The film also stars Mira Sorvino, still riding the wave of her Oscar win for 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite.  Although demonstrating exactly none of the effervescent charm that minted her as American’s sweetheart of the mid-‘90s, Sorvino still proves herself a palpable presence in this very different sort of film.  Playing a tough-as-nails maker of high-end fake I.D.s, the actress proves she can not only handle firearms alongside the best of them but can hold her own alongside Chow Yun-Fat.  At the time, a film critic whose identity escapes me actually congratulated the filmmakers in print on devising a way to keep Sorvino’s character in a lacy black bra the entire movie.

Fuqua was still several years and a few projects away from his true breakout effort, 2001’s Training Day.  But already, his penchant for stylized visuals was well on display.  The whole of The Replacement Killers is bathed in sickly neon, graffiti, and perpetual Von Sternberg-ian levels of precise multilayered clutter.  The ornate copper paneling on the walls of the police station (workplace of Michael Rooker’s sympathetic cop character) would be laughable were every frame of this movie not similarly decked out within an inch of its life.  

In retrospect, it ain’t bad.  Like so much of The Replacement Killers, what felt shallow and trite then now plays as senselessly welcome nostalgia.  When this movie played in theaters, we were still several months away from the cinematic pinball machine of Michael Bay’s Armageddon.  By comparison, Fuqua’s overly mechanical (and apparently hacked to ribbons) shoot ‘em up is a wholly reasonable moviegoing experience.

Quite thankfully, this latest Blu-ray release of The Replacement Killers has a terrific, dynamic transfer and plenty of sonic oomph to backup that ridiculous amount of gunfire.  Had these aspects gotten botched, fans would be left with nothing other than a novelty VHS-style slipcover (even though the DVD era was well under way by the time The Replacement Killers made the jump to living rooms).  Don’t come looking for any bonus features- this Mill Creek disc doesn’t even bother with the film’s ubiquitous pre-release trailer.  For this outing, satisfying audio/visuals will have to do.

In the beginning Chow gets on the bad side of a powerful crime lord (Kenneth Tsang) when he suddenly finds his heart. This occurs when, in the moment and sniper’s rifle poised n’ ready, he’s unable to take out Rooker’s seven-year-old son.  From there, it’s a hustle to get the heck back home to the other side of the world.  That’s where Sorvino comes in.  She’s got a bad feeling about agreeing to help this strong silent type, but before she can further get a bead, badasses attack!!  (Jürgen Prochnow! Carlos Gómez! Leo Lee!  And Til Schweiger and Danny Trejo as… the replacement killers!  Yes, it takes the two of them to equal one Chow Yun-Fat).  Chow and Sorvino (but mostly Chow) spend the rest of the movie murdering as many of them as they can.  

All of this killing may sound unbecoming for a newly turned professional hit man, but Chow’s presence here is so pronounced, so assured… honestly, who could ever replace him?