1998 / Director. Antione Fuqua.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS is a feature film full of firsts.
1998 was the first time Antoine Fuqua had directed a feature film (three years later he'd get Denzel his Best Actor Oscar for TRAINING DAY). It was the first film that legendary house-hold-name-in-China Chow Yun Fat made a film on US soil, it was the first script former police officer Ken Sanzel had produced and it was the first time Oscar winner Mira Sorvino played an action hero.
Let's face it, there was plenty that could go wrong with THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS. As far as first films go, there have been a lot better - however there has also been far worse.
It's a stock-standard, paint-by-numbers plot to be sure. A chinese hitman, John Lee (a stoic, laconic Chow Yun Fat) owes a debt to Los Angeles triad boss Terence Wei, but when his conscience gets in the way of an execution, Wei has to send in Replacement Killers (geddit?) to take care of the problem Lee neglected and take Lee out too. In order to get out of the country, Lee approaches counterfeit artist Meg Coburn (a rather sassy Mira Sorvino) to forge his documents but inadvertently draws Meg into the fold.
Cue 80 minutes of pandemonium. The beats of the story really only serve as partitions to prevent action fatigue, propping up one chaotic set-piece for the next one to come in like a bulldozer being driven by a bull in a China-store. In fact the script doesn't really require more than the back of a matchbox to convey the poster-thin story (John Lee doesn't kill target at bosses behest, boss sends everyone to kill John Lee. Mira Sorvino is also there) but for all it lacks in story, character, depth and nuance, there's no denying THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS is a helluva lot of fun and has aged considerably well.
Fuqua's slick visuals retain their gloss as does Harry Gregson-William's score, echoing shades of an Asian influence while still driving home a thick, bass-heavy beat. Chow Yun Fat retains his famous Gary Cooper-esque cool, doing everything he can with very slight material and Mira Sorvino kicks ass as one of the best, unsung female action stars of the 90's (she don't need no man to kick someone's ass for her, she does it herself) one that gets treated like a man in the company of men. Which is refreshing. Furiosa eat your heart out.
It's plain to see THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS is trying it's darnedest to imitate the heroic bloodshed films it's so clearly influenced by (all the themes are here; revenge, honour, brotherhood, loyalty), and even if it's not entirely successful all the time, it has it's moments. Worth a revisit, even if it's just once. Y'know, for old time's sake.