The Best Movie You Never Saw: The Replacement Killers

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS!

THE STORY: A Chinese Triad assassin (Chow Yun-Fat) grapples with his conscience when his boss orders him to kill the young son of a tenacious police officer (Michael Rooker). Unable to go through with the assignment, he finds himself in the crosshairs of the L.A underworld, with a tough forger (Mira Sorvino) as his only ally.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker. Music by Harry Gregson Williams. Directed by Antoine Fuqua.

THE HISTORY: My oh my, how times have changed. At the time THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS was made, director Antoine Fuqua, who was making his feature debut after several well-received music videos (including Coolio’s ‘Gangsta’s Paradise”), was apparently struggling with Sony over the final edit for the film, with things between them apparently getting tense. Nineteen years later, he’s one of their biggest directors, having made THE EQUALIZER and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN reboot for them, and recently signing an overall deal with the studio, guaranteeing THE EQUALIZER 2 and more.

"Yun-Fat was one of those guys that I admired watching everyday because he was so calm and comfortable and friendly. He was just a good person. And one day, I was in my trailer just frustrated about upset about a lot of different things, and I remember saying something to Chow like, "How come you're so calm about the process of making movies?" And he said something like he was just comfortable being Chow Yun-Fat, just being who he was. It wasn't any put on, or that he was trying to be a movie star. He was just a really comfortable human being, just cool as shit. Everything about him was just cool. And I couldn't figure out why he was that way. He was like, "I've been through all that, and I've come to the conclusion in my life that I'm really comfortable being Chow. I'm not trying to be anybody but me." And it was one of those things that really stuck with me. For me as a person, not just as a director, you need to get really comfortable with who you are and just roll with that. I'm not trying to hurt anybody or be an asshole or be this screaming mad director that people may want you to be. Just be who you are." - Antoine Fuqua- Ain't It Cool News Interview

Back when THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS was made, Fuqua’s ambitions for the film were limited by the studio’s desire for a quickie-actioner, but even in its compromised form (the theatrical cut only runs eighty-seven minutes), it stands as one of star Chow Yun-Fat’s better American movies. Fuqua had HK action cinema down cold, and knew how to present his iconic star, although the gun-fu style action was still new to audiences, with Chow’s old director, John Woo, having only recently caught-on with his FACE/OFF. Chow, despite this and another strong vehicle, THE CORRUPTOR, was never able to catch-on with American audiences is these kind of Hong Kong-styled thrillers, and soon found himself starring in martial arts movies like CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON and BULLETPROOF MONK, despite distinctly not being a martial artist. It’s a shame he was pigeonholed, but that said, he’s not suffering, as he’s still one of the most popular actors in China, with his movies routinely ranking among the top grossers of the year (although IMO he hasn’t actually done a good movie since LET THE BULLETS FLY – but that’s another article).

For what it was, THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS did OK. It only made $20 million domestic, below it’s $30 million budget, but I reckon that after foreign box office they broke even, and it became a solid hit on DVD, with Sony re-releasing it many times, making it a staple of their catalogue (they even released it in the short-lived UMD format). Fuqua, after another flop with BAIT, finally found his niche with TRAINING DAY, and has since become one of Hollywood’s most solid action directors.

WHY IT'S GREAT: I dunno if I’d call THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS truly great, but it’s a fun flick. It’s certainly imitative of Chow Yun-Fat’s movies with John Woo (he’s essentially playing the same guy as in THE KILLER) and the carnage never approaches the symphonic levels of something like HARD-BOILED, but as far as American HK clones go, it’s one of the best. This is mostly thanks to Chow’s charm and Fuqua’s style, which he tailors to his star. By all accounts, Fuqua really liked Chow Yun Fat, and as such, he showcases him in the best light possible. Thus, the movie is full of low-angle hero shots, while his star looks his photogenic best, although one of the negatives is that, as his English at the time was limited, his dialogue is kept to a minimum.

But I loved working with Antoine, and it was fun to do an action movie. It was kind of like being a kid and playing cowboys and Indians, or cops and robbers. And I enjoyed the role of Meg. I thought she was fun to do. I blew my voice out when I was doing a reshoot of Mimic—because it was one of those screaming scenes where I’m in the subway and I’m yelling because the monster is coming—and when I came back to the set of The Replacement Killers, Antoine was like, “I like your voice that way. Keep it.” So every day I had to yell to burn out my vocal cords. My voice wasn’t the same for a year and a half afterwards because it had the rough, gravelly, two-registers-lower sound to it." - Mira Sorvino - Random Roles -AV Club Interview

This affects his on-screen chemistry with Mira Sorvino. One wonders why these two photogenic, sexy actors aren’t allowed to romance each other, but interracial relationships were still relatively rare in Hollywood movies (MURDER AT 1600 faced similar criticism) – which dates the movie. Still Sorvino is game, and looks amazing as the edgy forger helping Chow Yun-Fat navigate his way through the underworld, and as he’s not given much to say she has to handle the exposition. One person that arguably benefits from all of this is Michael Rooker, in a rare sympathetic part as the targeted cop, who chases after Chow, not knowing the supposed killer is actually trying to protect his son. He gets more screen-time than you’d think.

The movie also has some cool villains, with Danny Trejo and Til Schweiger as the titular REPLACEMENT KILLERS, while HK actor Kenneth Tsang is cool and collected as the Triad boss, who wants his own son avenged. The movie probably could have done with a little more levity, with a young Clifton Collins Jr., contributing the movie’s only funny bits as an underworld snitch, but it all adds to Fuqua’s noirish tone. The soundtrack by Harry Gregson Williams (his first big solo assignment – after working on THE ROCK with Hans Zimmer and Nick Glennie-Smith) is propulsive, and the overall look of the movie is quite seedy, with the quick running time making this a good B-movie romp.

BEST SCENE: Chow Yun-Fat’s intro is pretty great, rivaling some of his John Woo films, as he walks into a club to Crystal Method (a staple of action films of the era - one of their tracks even showed up in LOST IN SPACE!) and does a nifty little bullet ballet, eliminating his targets, and never letting even a hair get out of place (the way his tie rests on his gun arm is super cool). This immediately establishes him as a stylish, cool Asian icon, strikingly different than the Kung-Fu superstars that were more common in the era. It’s a shame Asian-leads in this mold have become arguably less prominent then than they were twenty years ago.

SEE IT: THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS is easily available, both on DVD/Blu-ray, and on many streaming sites, including Sony’s Crackle, where you can watch it free (and legally!).

PARTING SHOT: It’s not a classic, but THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS is a cool Chow Yun Fat actioner. One hopes that before he calls it a day, Chow will get one last big actioner to go out on. If the rumors of his feud with John Woo are true, Fuqua would be a great choice to take on the mantle and send him out in a way that does his legend justice (and rescue him from the shitty Wong Jing GOD OF GAMBLERS pseudo-sequels he’s been stuck doing over the last few years – that mint money for some weird reason).

Source: JoBlo.com



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