Title: Fulltime Killer (Chuen zik saat sau)
Release Date: 2001
Length: 102 minutes
Director: Johnnie To, Ka-Fai Wai
Starring: Andy Lau, Takashi Sorimachi, Kelly Lin
Language: English, Mandarin, Japanese, Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
This could well be the most violent of the movies on this list. It’s Hong Kong violence too, so the laws of physics aren’t strictly enforced. Johnnie To doesn’t let reality get in the way of a beautiful shot (camera or firearm). On the surface this is a bit of a silly film about competing assassins with the wild and crazy new guy trying to knock the calm, cool, professional #1 off his perch. Dig a little deeper though and you’ll find…that’s exactly all this is.
It doesn’t need to be any more, though. Sometimes you like to just watch a simple story about two men playing a cat and mouse game trying to kill each other in ludicrous ways. Sorimachi is O, a mono-alphabetic Japanese assassin who lives in Hong Kong. The film opens up with him watching a funeral from afar. After a minute, we learn there are two bodies in the grave. It then switches to him walking through a train station in Kuala Lumpur where O is accosted by a Japanese man talking to him as if they were schoolmates. O protests that they are strangers, though the Japanese man persists. O ignores him, shoots some sort of gangster figure (and his bodyguards) as they exit a train, then calmly shoots the Japanese man and walks away through the screaming and running crowd. His voiceover proclaims “in this business, you’re bound to eventually kill someone you know.”
Tok (Andy Lau) is introduced as a gregarious, smiling, and cheerful. He poses as a deliveryman to enter a Thai police station, but as soon as he gets to the front desk he takes the shotgun out of the bunch of flowers he’s “delivering” and just shoots his way down to the cells. Once there, he throws a couple dozen grenades into a prisoner’s cell, then pulls the pin on one more and tosses it in to be lost in the crowd and walks away laughing. As he rides away on his motorcycle the whole building explodes behind him.
Tok is devil-may-care, flippant, and happy-go-lucky, if that’s not an obscene way to describe a hitman. O is cold and business-like. The movie never wastes time with how either got into the business. It never bothers to explain why Tok is gunning for O, other than his simply saying that to be the best, he has to beat the best. O is just about killing the target and only as many other people as necessary to complete the mission. Tok is a psychopath who finds the whole thing a grand lark.
After the introductions, it all just gets weirder and crazier from there. The cops get on their trail, betrayals, double-crosses, lies, and deceptions add up and though the basic outlines of the plot never get that complicated, the details do. It becomes a situation like the one in the second Austin Powers movie; you need someone to just lean over and say that you probably shouldn’t worry too much about the details, just enjoy the film.
To add a bit of humanity and romance(?) O has a cleaning lady (Kelly Lin) who comes once a week to clean his apartment. He, of course, is never there, but he watches her from the building opposite. Voyeurism is cute? I’m not sure what the message there is. Tok, somehow, finds out who she is and shows up at her full-time job (at a video store) and asks her out. Now there’s a love triangle aspect as well. It’s rather perfunctory and underdeveloped, but I guess it’s good enough for a HK actioner.
There’s a cop played by the brilliant Simon Yam who’s on the trail of O and then Tok as well, but it only serves to heighten some of the absurdity. The narrative thread of the movie shifts halfway or three-quarters through to the cop’s perspective. The ending could hardly be more absurd. Still, Johnnie To is a great director and the movie is a very well-made example of the Hong Kong style.
There’s one scene where Tok and the girl start to get hot and heavy, but there’s no nudity and something intervenes before he does more than get her blouse undone and his shirt off. The violence is something else, though. Lots of spatter, lots of creative deaths and injuries, and lots of theatricality about it all. There’s some swearing, but mostly in subtitles which I find less jarring for some reason.
On the whole, it’s not a great film, but it’s an excellent example of its genre. To usually elevates the genre in which he works, and this is no exception.