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Fulltime Killer
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Chinese: 全職殺手  
Year: 2001
Director: Johnnie To Kei-Fung, Wai Ka-Fai
Producer: Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Johnnie To Kei-Fung
Writer: Wai Ka-Fai, Joseph O'Bryan, Pang Ho-Cheung (original novel)
Cast: Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Takashi Sorimachi, Kelly Lin (Lam Hei-Lui), Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Cherrie Ying Choi-Yi, Lam Suet
The Skinny: Top notch Milkyway production still stands out as a superior genre film despite sometimes awkward and pretentious execution.
by Kozo:

As Milkyway crime thrillers go, this big budget hitman saga leans toward being their most pretentious and bloated yet. Based on a best selling novel, Fulltime Killer gets a glossy big screen push by actor and producer Andy Lau. The result is a bit too self-referential and overblown, but director Johnnie To stages excellent set pieces which help redeem whatever self-importance the script attempts.

Andy Lau stars as Tok, a low-rent hitman who kills with theatrical flamboyance and acts like a rock star. His goal is to be the "Gold Medallist of Assassins," a self-proclaimed title which he, and everyone else in Asia, believes belongs to the silent assassin O (Takashi Sorimachi). In contrast to Tok, O is quiet and efficient. He exists only to kill and then fade away, as if he doesn't exist. However, Tok won't let O kill quietly. Through a series of escalating encounters, the two find themselves both allies and enemies. The goal of all of this is one fateful showdown where Tok can claim the title - or O can retain it.

This homoerotic battle of the bad guys is an overused plot even for Milkyway films. However, Fulltime Killer attempts to surpass all those other films by referencing its own genre as a sort of post-modern springboard. Tok is a killer who likes to emulate his favorite action films because he likes their style. The obsessed Interpol agent Inspector Lee (Simon Yam) ends up deifying his quarry in a novel. Kelly Lin plays Miss Chin, O's housekeeper, who suspects he's a professional killer and tries to get close to him instead of calling the cops. She ends up being charmed by Tok, who shows up at her job wearing a rubber mask like Patrick Swayze in Point Break and flat-out telling her that he's a bad guy. Miss Chin is probably the ultimate genre cliché, the "good girl" who finds soulful release in the arms of a professional killer.

Thankfully, the film grounds itself in the more cathartic conventions of the genre. Johnnie To's set pieces are exciting and appropriate, and the actors are engaging despite the sometimes overblown script. Andy Lau goes over the top and seems to be having a ball. What's great about his performance here is not the performance itself (which is entertaining but unoriginal) but the fact that he plays up his own pop star image to do it. Simon Yam and Cherrie Ying (as Lee's assistant) both manage their performances well, though Yam does one-up Lau in the overacting department. Kelly Lin is convincing and effective as Miss Chin, which is a surprise since her earlier acting efforts couldn't really be called acting. And Takashi Sorimachi is charismatic in his HK acting debut. As O, he's required to be impassive and reticent, but he has a strong physical presence that's well suited for a Milkyway Film.

In the end, all the elements manage to coalesce nicely and we reach an appropriate and even haunting finish. Johnnie To's best films have been those whose pretensions are silent. Fulltime Killer puts its pretensions on its sleeve, and the effect can be as alienating as it is interesting. Still, To clearly believes in the over-the-top emotions and sometimes embarrassing drama of this film. That's a credit to his assured directorial hand, and reason enough to keep watching. (Kozo 2001)

Notes: Fulltime Killer has an alternate ending that played in Malaysia. It ends before Inspector Lee exits the cafe and realizes that Miss Chin's version of the story may not be the real one. Also, new footage is inserted of the authorities apprehending one of the killers after their climactic duel. The changes alter more than the film's story. In the Malaysian version, the overriding message is that crime does not pay, and whatever uncertain edge the film possessed has been destroyed. Stick with the Hong Kong version. If you must see the alternate version, hunt down a Malaysian VCD and prepare to be unimpressed.

21st Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
• Nomination - Best Editing (David Richardson)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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images courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen