Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Fulltime Killer

Since Hong Kong action cinema exploded primarily on highly stylized facsimiles of American Westerns and shoot-'em-ups, it only makes sense that Andy Lau–the world's second-best assassin in Johnny To and Wai Ka-Fai's exhilarating Xerox Fulltime Killer–would have movies on the brain. A post-postmodern sharpshooter, Lau casts himself as the star of favorites like El Mariachi and Point Break, collecting payments in an instrument case and terrorizing video-store customers by wearing Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon masks. Much to his handlers' consternation, even Lau's hits are needlessly splashy and ostentatious, staged in public spaces so everyone (and their cameras) can admire his one-handed rifle shots along with the immaculate cut of his jib. Packed with sly references to Le Samouraï, Rear Window, The Shining, and Fallen Angels, among others, Fulltime Killer aligns itself perfectly with Lau's cinephilic fantasies, knowing full well that it's a knock-off while preening exuberantly for its imagined audience. In doing so, the film swiftly deflects every criticism that could possibly be thrown at it. (Derivative? Ludicrous? Pointlessly stylized? Of course!) Narrated, at one point or another, by four different characters, the hilariously farfetched story involves two brothers and expert marksmen who both lost the Olympic Gold due to a hereditary brain disease, a femme-fatale video clerk who moonlights as a housekeeper, and a near-complete rack of plastic Snoopy collectibles. If for no other reason than to be number one (business concerns rank a distant second), Lau wants a showdown with his chief competitor Takashi Sorimachi, a less conspicuous assassin who has earned the title for his stealth professionalism. In an unlikely coincidence, the two take separate romantic interests in Kelly Lin, who meets the masked Lau at her video-store day job and cleans Sorimachi's empty high-rise apartment. As Lau and Sorimachi prepare for their inevitable showdown in a fireworks factory (!), they elude an Interpol officer (Simon Yam) who would consider turning the whole case into a book, if only he had an ending. The chief figureheads at the dominant Hong Kong production house Milkyway Image, (Peace Hotel) and To (The Heroic Trio) direct each scene with a lust for gratuity, not only in the elaborate slo-mo action sequences, but also in quieter moments that would normally pass with a simple set-up. Going wherever To's imagination takes it, the restless camera frequently pumps up mundane story developments with spectacular movements, plunging into the earth to a corpse six feet under or zipping through the circuitry in an Internet exchange. There's no sound reason for these shots, or this movie, to exist, but in keeping with Hong Kong's style-as-substance tradition, Fulltime Killers is beyond reproach.


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