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Wednesday, February 18, 1998

The Replacement Killers

Posted By on Wed, Feb 18, 1998 at 12:00 AM

Perhaps for the good of everyone, action pictures are fast becoming popular again in American theaters. But as part of this pop cultural process, the works of filmmaker John Woo have enjoyed a quiet absorption into our cinematic language, that is the Chinese ones, made before his recent co-option into Hollywood. It seems that even the humblest videohound can tell a labor of love from a big-budget sellout. The Replacement Killers is a big studio's response to the popular appreciation of John Woo.

Indeed, it is the strikingly democratic slant of Woo's films that makes them so effective. Former music video director Antoine Fuqua employs the best and most accessible emblems of that oeuvre, as well as his own tricks, in a sort of homage to the icon. Showing up to complete the tribute is Woo's own long-standing partner Chow Yun-Fat, a steely gazed Asian response to Cary Grant-Jimmy Stewart. Fat, as hitman John Lee, pulls passport forger Meg Coburn (Mira Sorvino) into a hive of trouble while evading the wrath of Terence Wei (Kenneth Tsang), a crime kingpin whom Lee has crossed. Lee must fly to China to avert Wei's wrath, but of course intervention comes in a hail of slugs and dirty looks.

Similar to Woo's action films, Fuqua's work threads themes of integrity and honor through the firefight sequences with intelligence and depth. Not that we need to stop and think at all; if Sorvino's raw sexuality isn't blazing the frames, then Fuqua's dazzling visuals are doing his work for him. At times, his camera does some astonishing things, and his color-saturated images carry the noir element over from Woo's works as well. An audaciously stylish pastiche emerges in the cool romance of Fuqua's hymn, as well as the microwave heat between Lee and his uncertain partner. Only a couple of times does the videoized pacing of Fuqua's hand grow tiresome.

Otherwise, Woo's model gets eminent treatment as the assassin struggles mightily for his redemption. American cinema may never be the same again. These engraved bullets pack a moral punch.

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