FULLTIME Killer (2001)

“What’s the matter? Don’t want to be a Killer’s Woman?”

Words: Desmond Childs

fulltime killer
Andy Lau (Right) and Takashi Sorimachi star in this thriller from directors Johnnie To (The Mission) and Wai Ka Fai.

There was a time when finding a job was much easier. You’d pickup a couple of newspapers and read the ads. No? Still having trouble finding work? How about if you match every third word on one newspaper ad with every fifth word on another newspaper advertising page altogether? Does that sound a bit excessive? You know, when it comes to being a full-time killer, you’ll always take work when you can get it. 

“It’s about that time?”

Full-time Killer (yes, I hyphenated the title) is about two assassins. One is the best “in the world!” while the other appears to be some hot-shot, upstart. The entire movie quickly plugs away through it’s hour and forty minute running time. And the worse part is that the cast and crew seemed to feel like it was necessary that characters speak multiple languages in this movie. It doesn’t add anything to the plot. But it does make the movie much more confusing at times. The story itself isn’t anything to write home about, it’s literally just about these two assassins. We get to see them both carry out their missions using contrasting styles. O’s (played by Takashi Sorimachi) more cold, and calculating when executing his mission; while Tok (Andy Lau) is a loose cannon. Tok parades around town wearing High Point-style president masks when carrying out his missions. He also seems to enjoy killing his targets in public and then frolicking around until the police show up. Then he disappears. O doesn’t seem to enjoy his job (thankfully) and often goes out of his way to keep civilians out-of-the-line of fire.

So what could ramp up the stakes in an already fast-paced, bullet-riddled thriller like FULLTIME KILLER? Throw in a woman. That’s right, this is what usually happens. The two killers end up scoping each other out, trying to get the drop on one another. And, inexplicably, end up dating the same boring, video store clerk. She’s not much of a character. Simply there to give reaction takes, fire a few rounds, and make love to one or both of the assassins. Yeah, I can’t stress how boring she is and really unneeded. She’s simply in this movie to be the commonality that ties O and Tok together. Once she’s sort of spent time with them both, the movie turns into this unexciting, poorly paced “story-within-a-story” where a traumatized cop begins to write a story about O and Tok. The police officer guy desperately wants to finish his book so he spends many days (months?) researching. Finally the end of the movie is the special girl who dated both O and Tok telling the cop about who emerged victorious out of their rivalry. And that’s it. I didn’t spoil anything for you guys. Seriously.

Is this a film I’d recommend to a fan of action-thrillers? No, it’s not. Why? Because of the screenplay. The action in it is pretty well done, and there are some cool set pieces that add a nice touch. But having some of the script written in a language that many of the actors and actresses were not comfortable speaking was a bad move. It takes you out of the movie. Or at least it took me out of it. Not to mention silly, stupid mistakes having to do with the execution of scenes. For example, the cops are chasing one of the assassins through a library and lose sight of him. So they proceed to scamper down the middle of the library aisle and flash their weapons at nearly everybody inside. They don’t say anything. They just start waving their guns around like a couple of idiots. There are a few more things. The notion that a romantic relationship can be sparked over a souvenir is one. The other is how the police are either portrayed as really good at their job or complete morons. But you’ll see what I’m talking about, if you watch this movie. Like I said, the action scenes were well paced and entertaining. The acting, even with this screenplay, wasn’t the worst. Andy Lau was a little off-putting, but I guess his character is supposed to be.

For some reason critics and filmmakers alike were looking to this movie as a good example that Hong-Kong cinema was “BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER BABY!”. I’m here to say that THAT is not the case. At least if you’re going to base such a statement on a sorta cool picture like FULLTIME Killer.

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