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)