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(1998) (Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino) (R)

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Action/Adventure: A professional assassin finds himself as the target after he refuses to make a hit for a mob boss.
John Lee (CHOW YUN-FAT) is a renowned assassin who's hired by Mr. Wei (KENNETH TSANG) a powerful mob boss who wants L.A. cop Stan Zedkov (MICHAEL ROOKER) bumped off. It seems Zedkov killed Wei's drug dealer son in the line of duty and Wei wants revenge. The problem is, Lee finds that he can't complete the job once he sees that Zedkov has a young son of his own. Thus, Lee himself becomes a target as Wei tells his right-hand man (JURGEN PROCHNOW) to take care of both the cop and the assassin. Hoping to quickly leave the country, Lee visits Meg Coburn (MIRA SORVINO) a document forger who starts to make him a passport when Wei's men storm in and attack. On the run from that point on, Lee and Meg must fend off the relentless, gun-toting thugs who want to kill both of them, while preventing the murder of Zedkov's son.
If they're fans of action films, actor Chow Yun-Fat (a legendary Hong Kong actor) or actress Mira Sorvino ("Mighty Aphrodite"), they just might. Preteens will have little or no interest in it.
For strong violence and for language.
  • CHOW YUN-FAT plays a professional assassin who turns down a hit and becomes a target himself. Trying to flee the country, he kills many people who try to kill him.
  • MIRA SORVINO plays a tough, no-nonsense forgery expert who makes fake i.d.'s and passports. She curses some and kills several people as well.


    OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
    Whenever it's announced that a given film marks the cinematic debut of both the director and the screenwriter, there's definitely going to be some apprehension among studio heads and moviegoers. With one having only cut his teeth on music videos and TV commercials and the other having only written a TV pilot, the lack of collective movie experience might make one think this could be a real bomb. Featuring both a legendary actor, and a director serving as executive producer, however, and one begins to believe that the film might yet survive the attack of the freshmen. It only partially does, and while the movie technically dazzles, as a moviegoing experience it falls rather short.

    That is, of course, unless massive amounts of gunfire, choreographed with many deaths, can satiate your cinematic appetite. If that's what you're looking for, then this film is for you. Featuring Chow Yun-Fat, a legendary Hong Kong actor with a resume of gun-blazing violent films, "The Replacement Killers" showcases weaponry as much as people, and the guns have a much greater visceral impact on the audience than the characters or plot. Many had high hopes of converting American audiences into becoming fans of Yun-Fat, a long-time favorite of Asian markets, but this isn't the vehicle that's going to do it.

    Perhaps the film would have worked better had executive producer John Woo remained behind the camera instead of the checkbook. Also a legend in Asia, director Woo has had a successful career that recently migrated onto American soil with his hits "Broken Arrow" and "Face/Off." While much of his style is present in this film, first-time director Antoine Fuqua doesn't capture any of the fun. After cutting his teeth on TV commercials and various music videos (Coolio's 1995 video "Gangsta's Paradise), Fuqua has jumped headfirst into the maelstrom of big screen productions.

    The picture does look wonderful and has all sorts of varying camera angles and more than its share of slow motion footage (thanks to cinematographer Peter Lyons Collister). It's evident that Fuqua studied Woo's and other director's films as he's definitely captured the correct look and mood. Although the film visually works, it never connects with the audience on anything more than its visceral shock value. Even all of that -- the rampant and relentless shooting -- isn't that shocking after years of seeing similar footage in countless other films, or after the repetitive gun battles present here.

    The problem is that Fuqua and first-time screenwriter Ken Sanzel (a former cop with personal gun battle experience -- a perfect fit for this film) have fashioned a frenetic piece without much of a story or real characters. What little bits of plot are present merely serve as a bridge between the numerous gun battles that occur every fifteen or twenty minutes. The characters don't have much to do other than shoot or duck (from those shooting at them), and while that certainly requires some great reflexes and timing, it doesn't do much to tax one's acting skills.

    All of that's too bad for Chow Yun-Fat who was hoping this film would be his big introduction into America. Like his fellow Hong Kong star, Jackie Chan, however, the going won't be easy for him. American audiences are particularly finicky about having American actors in those hero roles and, other than Schwarzenegger, foreign actors have not impressed them. Compared to Chan, whose martial arts skills are amazing and self-deprecating attitude immediately endears him to audiences, Yun-Fat has his work cut out for him. Much more a stoic actor -- think of various roles played by Stallone or Van Damme compared to Willis or Schwarzenegger -- Yun-Fat, at least in this role, won't be winning over many moviegoers. That's not really his fault, it's just that his character is written as a remorseful, but lethal assassin who isn't given many opportunities to show us the lighter side. His "humaneness" comes from the fact that he doesn't kill one particular person (although he does dispatch many others), but even Mira Sorvino's character sarcastically welcomes him "to humanity" for not killing a kid.

    Speaking of that Academy Award winning performer (Best Supporting Actress for 1995's "Mighty Aphrodite"), this is her second foray into the action/suspense genre (after last year's "Mimic"). Unfortunately, her effort isn't much better than the first. Playing yet another near humorless character, Sorvino isn't given much to do other than act tough, shoot some guns, and not get shot herself. While she does an okay job at that, we don't care one bit about her due to the way her character is set up and behaves. Likewise, we have no interest in any chemistry (of what little there is) between her and Yun-Fat's character. She says, "Somewhere along the way I developed a problem in watching you die," but we never for a moment believe it. This only hurts the film as it turns it into nothing more than a big screen arcade game where "our character" has to shoot all of the bad guys without getting shot himself.

    It doesn't help that the rest of the cast play nothing more than stereotypical villains whose only collective goal is to kill many people. I've said this many times before, but it's so much better to include a "fun" villain into the proceedings than your run-of-the-mill thug (think of the original "Die Hard"). As this movie stands, we don't care squat about who these bad guys are, or what they're doing. Instead, we simply know that they'll eventually die from bullet wounds -- the only question is in what order. By default we're supposed to feel for Michael Rooker's police officer character, but only because we know his family is in danger. Even so, that's never played to its best benefit and the result is that we don't care about him or anyone in the film.

    In a market previously saturated with "Die Hard" movies and Jerry Bruckheimer productions ("The Rock," this summer's upcoming "Armageddon," etc...), this sort of film doesn't stand a chance at drawing in much of an audience. For starters, it just doesn't have the star power up front. While Yun-Fat may be a big star overseas, very few people here even have the slightest notion about who he is, and Sorvino certainly doesn't have much drawing power. Then there's the fact that the film takes itself too darn seriously. While on the surface it doesn't look any different from those other films, it's vastly inferior. Yes, they all involve gobs of gunfire and killings, but the others usually have some wildly inventive plot and at least one "fun" or interesting character. This film has neither.

    Of course some of you out there might be complaining that such films aren't supposed to be about characters or plot development. They're about lots of people shooting thousands of bullets and killing many other people. Well, this film quite effectively provides that type of "entertainment." There are many moments filmed in slow motion as Yun-Fat slowly spins around, a gun in both hands, and takes out the bad guys. Although some moments are visually interesting, few of them are truly engaging (other than guessing how many people will be shot in any given scene) and after a while the relentless gun battles simply numb one's brain.

    Perhaps it was that numbing effect that kept me from figuring out why Yun-Fat's character can often shoot people dead with one shot from a long distance, while at others he can't hit them with a hail of gunfire at close range. Nor can the bad guys hit Lee or Meg with thousands of bullets fired from machine guns.

    What's that? Oh yeah, these films aren't supposed to make sense. If they were, however, wouldn't it seem strange that a trained assassin couldn't hit his targets with the first or second shot? I'd hazard a guess that if one took a statistical look at the number of bullets fired versus the number of people shot, he wouldn't be doing that well. Then again, if he were a perfect shot, he'd quickly kill everyone and the movie would end. If that happened, how would we get to hear those "wonderful," yet stereotypical kung fu movie sounds that artificially amplify certain movements in the film (the overemphasized sounds added to knives being pulled out, ammo clips inserted into guns, etc...)?

    While this production looks good -- like any given souped up music video -- and has enough stimulating visual elements to keep one interested throughout the less than ninety minute run time, it just doesn't work. Yet, like those music videos and TV commercials that look great and immediately grab your attention (people walking in slow motion to a hip, techno soundtrack, etc...), after a while all of it gets rather boring. That's partly because of its repetitive nature, but also because we're aware that beyond all of the flash and dazzle the film lacks any substantive depth or weight.

    Those who like movies that showcase choreographed gun battles will probably enjoy this film. While those moments are occasionally engaging, one wishes more work had gone into the characters and plots. Even so, director Fuqua shows that he has budding talent and I suspect we'll see a great deal more from him in the future. As for Yun-Fat -- like Jackie Chan -- I hope that someday someone will create a vehicle that takes advantage of their talents and makes them big stars in the States. "The Replacement Killers" won't do that for Yun-Fat, and we give it just a 4 out of 10.

    Excessive violence and gunfire will probably stand out in many viewers' minds as the most objectionable material in this film. Literally thousands of bullets are fired from handguns, shotguns and machine guns resulting in many deaths and injuries (some of which get quite bloody after a while) during the many prolonged gun battle scenes. Profanity is heavy with 4 "f" words and an assortment of others. Some viewers may find the many gun battles and/or moments where the bad guys search for Lee and Meg and then shoot at them as tense, while others will find all of that as nothing more than standard action fair.

    Parents may be concerned that a professional assassin is made out to look like the hero (since he fights the villains who are "worse" then he is), and that he uses massive amounts of gunfire to take care of his "problems." Since many teenage boys may want to see this film, we suggest that you look through the content to decide whether the film is appropriate for them or anyone else in your home.

    Of SPECIAL NOTE for those who may be prone to seizures from bright, flashing lights: The opening scene takes place in a nightclub where there are several instances of flashing lights.

  • Some people drink in a nightclub.
  • During a drug deal we see what appears to be cocaine (or some other drug in powdered form).
  • Nearly everyone who is shot has small, bloody bullets holes in their bodies. Not too graphic at first, the wounds get progressively more bloody as the story continues until some of the victims are quite bloody.
  • A woman is caught in machine gun fire and blood splatters from her body.
  • Lee finds a monk whose head is very bloody and lies in a pool of his own blood.
  • A man's shoulder is rather bloody from a bullet wound.
  • Obviously Mr. Wei and his men have both as they want both Lee and Meg as well as Zedkov killed.
  • Lee is a professional assassin and thus has both.
  • Meg is a professional forger who makes fake i.d.s and passports for people.
  • Meg has both toward Zedkov and his partner (police offers) who have brought her in for questioning.
  • A young thug comes up to Meg, smells her, and says that he'll give her some of his love.
  • Some viewers may find scenes listed under violence as tense, but whether you find them that way depends on your tolerance for massive gun battles.
  • The movie is filled with scenes where the bad guys shoot at Lee and/or Lee and Meg who duck and/or return the fire.
  • We see a prolonged scene where Lee watches Zedkov through a sniper's lense and prepares to shoot him.
  • Another scene has several assassins ready to shoot a boy while Lee and Meg try to stop them.
  • Handguns/Shotguns/Machine guns/Grenade Launcher: Used to threaten, wound, or kill many people (as well as shoot up a great deal of property) as literally thousands of bullets are fired. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "Pain in the ass" and "Broad" (a woman).
  • Since it's so prevalent, the fact that everyone carries a gun and gets into massive gun battles with other people.
  • None.
  • There's a mild amount of suspenseful music with the rest falling into the action movie soundtrack category.
  • None.
  • At least 4 "f" words, 7 "s" words, 5 hells, 4 asses, 3 damns, 1 S.O.B., and 2 uses each of "G- damn" and "Jesus Christ" and 1 use of "Oh Jesus" as exclamations.
  • We briefly see Meg in her bra and underwear (nothing too revealing).
  • A young thug comes up to Meg, smells her, and says that he'll give her some of his love.
  • Some people smoke in a nightclub and out on a street.
  • Wei's right-hand man smokes, as does Lee in separate scenes.
  • Wei is upset about his adult son's death at the hands of a cop.
  • Lee worries about his family that we never see (that Wei will kill them).
  • Zedkov must deal with some assassins who try to kill his son.
  • The rampant gun use (that will look cool to some teenagers) and killings where a professional assassin is made to look like the good guy simply because there are guys worse than him and because he didn't kill one of his targets.
  • Lee walks into a nightclub and carries out a job and assassinates someone and then kills several other people as well.
  • Gunfire breaks out at a drug bust and several people are shot and/or killed.
  • Wei's men burst into Meg's office and a massive gun battle breaks out where lots of property is damaged and many people are shot and killed.
  • Lee grabs a man and breaks his neck, killing him.
  • Lee and Meg find a man who's been killed.
  • Some thugs apprehend Lee and Meg. As one of them handcuffs her to a chain, she kicks him in the leg. He then backhands her and kicks her in the leg. Another thug then hits Lee in the stomach. He eventually escapes and another big gun battle follows. Several more people are killed and others are knocked unconscious as Lee kicks them.
  • The bad guys riddle a car with machine gun fire and the police later fire at it as well.
  • Other assassins show up in an arcade and open fire on Lee and Meg with machine guns.
  • An innocent woman is caught in machine gun fire and her body is riddled with bullets.
  • Two thugs riddle a police car with machine gun fire and kill the two officers inside.
  • Lee finds a man who's been attacked and is extremely bloody.
  • Meg walks up and punches a thug and then holds a gun on him. His associates then draw theirs as does Lee, but no one gets shot in this scene.
  • Some assassins open fire in a movie theater and another gun battle follows where one man is shot and killed and another is wounded.
  • Lee shoots many more people dead in yet another gun battle.
  • A man opens fire on a van with his machine gun and then fires a grenade into it, blowing it up.
  • Several more people are shot and killed (some execution style -- point blank range) at the end.

  • Reviewed February 2 , 1998

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