Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fulltime Killer

Way back in 2001, Johnnie To made this fine Hong Kong actioner. OK, so the title's not so hot, but such is the power and talent of this filmmaker, and his cool-ass cast, that despite zero character development I was immediately sucked in.

Andy Lau is electrifying as the grinning psychopath Tok, an up-and-comer in the realm of world-class hitmen. Leading the field is the mysterious Japanese loner Ito (Takashi Sorimachi), and we get to see the handiwork of both men in elaborate set pieces that open the film. I'm no gun nut, but the use of firearms and various other incendiary devices in this film transcends standard action movie tropes, approaching something like fine art.

Also of interest to me was the blend of languages and locations. We run all over Asia, from Kuala Lumpur to Macau to Tokyo to Hong Kong to Singapore. If you're like me, and use foreign films for vicarious sight-seeing, you won't be disappointed here.

Tok is Chinese but speaks fluent Japanese, as does the two killers' mutual love interest Chin (Kelly Lin), who's actually from Taiwan. In situations where Chinese or Japanese don't apply, English is the default, and we hear quite a lot of it. I'm a language guy, so it's interesting to me to analyze just why various members of the all-Asian cast would be speaking English to one another. For example, the Hong Kong cops (like Simon Yam) speak it as a legacy from colonial days, whereas other characters do it because they simply don't speak the other's native tongue.

Anyhow, this combination of action, travelogue, and linguistic melange makes for a perfect trifecta of Asian entertainment. Good old Johnnie To -- haven't seen a stinker yet!

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