Full-Time Killer

Reviewed by YTSL

For some people, a Milkyway Image film is not really a Milkyway Image film unless it is a crime drama.  However worthwhile and/or entertaining they may be, comedies like “Needing You…”, “Help!!!”, “Wu Yen” and “Love on a Diet”, a quiet romance like “Sealed with a Kiss” and docu-dramas like “Spacked Out” and “Gimme, Gimme” aren’t what many fans of this production house’s offerings truly look forward to viewing.  Consequently, although 2000 and 2001 have been years in which Johnnie To and co. have achieved the most HKSAR box office success, those who majorly admire those offerings which often starred Lau Ching Wan -- and involved lots of exchanges of bullets -- have been waiting in vain for some time now to be treated once again to the kind of testosterone-powered, explosive action work that can be emotionally cathartic as well as dramatically satisfying.

That whose (tentative) Chinese title translates into English as “You and Me” is a movie about two hit-men (played by Andy Lau and Takashi Sorimachi), the woman whom they get triangularly involved with (who comes in the form of Kelly Lin), and the Interpol team (led by an individual essayed by Simon Yam) whose pursuit of them spans several Asian territories.  Although its English title suggests otherwise, there is more than one major claimant to the FULL-TIME KILLER crown in this often tall tale; with Takashi Sorimachi’s intense O – short for Ono – character being recognized, at the start of the film, by underworld figures as the reigning king of assassins but his previously undisputed top position within his field getting challenged by a flamboyantly reckless upstart known only as Tok (and portrayed by Andy Lau).  So intent is Tok to not only topple but also meet and duel with O that the Chinese man was willing to spend five years learning Japanese as well as effectively stalk and corner the native Japanese speaker (whose chosen home base turned out to be Hong Kong rather than the Land of the Rising Sun).  O, on the other hand, (initially) possessed no plans to get to know or near Tok, or any other human being.  Slowly but seeming inevitably though, the two men’s paths cross and criss-cross.  Furthermore, and along the way, they find that they have more in common than just their chosen profession…
In his South China Morning Post review, Paul Fonoroff has hailed FULL-TIME KILLER as being “in many ways…the best of…[Johnnie] To's trademark “macho series””.  Alternatively, not only did I not love this Andy Lau vanity vehicle – it ought to be noted that, beyond this movie’s web site being “powered by www.andylau.com, the Cantopop Sky King was this visually stylish effort’s co-producer as well as lead (over-)actor -- much more than the likes of “A Hero Never Dies”, “Expect the Unexpected” and “The Mission” but I also happen to think that it is bereft of the darkness, depth and dramatic heft that I found to be characteristic of the crime dramas that the Milkyway Image folks used to put out in their pre 100 Years of Film days.  As a matter of fact, that which possesses the kind of unseemly – and seemingly invariable shallow -- showiness that I happen to dislike quite a bit looks to be:  Less of a return to true nature and form for co-directors cum co-producers Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai than a commercialist harnessing of their considerable talents to an Andy Lau bid to issue a flashy calling card, a la John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat by way of “Hard Boiled”, to Hollywood.
The first signs of things not being as they ought to be for me came by way of the FULL-TIME KILLER crew taking us rapidly from Malaysia to Thailand – where the movie’s two main characters are shown coolly carrying out deadly assignments -- and then to Japan, Singapore and South Korea rather than just staying put in Hong Kong.  Although I don’t consider it a “must” for all Hong Kong movies to solely take place in the HKSAR, “international” action productions are not – despite their seemingly thinking otherwise -- the forte of the former British Crown Colony’s film folk.  For one thing, not enough time is spent in many of the locations to make it feel like they are anything other than flatly uninteresting, inter-changeable landscapes.  For another, the international gallivanting around that occurs places big linguistic demands on many of the actors and actresses that they are not able to completely successfully fulfill.
With regards to the cast of FULL-TIME KILLER:  It undoubtedly helped Takashi Sorimachi’s cause that his O character was pretty much the only one of the film’s key figures who got to speak the actor’s mother tongue for the bulk of the movie.  In contrast, Andy Lau’s performance suffered considerably from his neither sounding particularly comfortable nor cool when speaking English and Japanese (the two languages he spoke much more than his native Cantonese, even when Tok was moving around in Hong Kong).  Also, while Simon Yam and Lam Suet’s English delivery was passable, both of them did not possess the requisite “Singlish” accents that I’d imagine that the real-life equivalents of their Singaporean Interpol agent and sleazebag characters would possess.  On a brighter note, Kelly Lin’s command of Japanese as well as Mandarin allowed this (re)viewer to find her convincing in her role as the Taiwanese woman named Qin who regularly worked at a Japanese video store and earned extra money cleaning the apartment of a mysterious Japanese man (whose life she found herself getting increasingly curious about).  Newcomer Cherrie Ying deserves credit too for appearing at home in her role as the urbane Interpol agent who was Simon Yam’s character’s right hand (wo)man.

A couple of easy ways for FULL-TIME KILLER to have been a better movie than it is could have come by way of Andy Lau being given more Cantonese dialogue and less screen time.  The likelihood is equally high that a Raymond Wong score would have added considerably to this work’s quality.  I also would have liked to have seen fewer action scenes in which O or Tok’s targets and opponents were mere hapless sitting ducks who were no match for the master killer(s).  What I personally missed most about this offering though were:  Well-developed characters – particular female ones – whose actions I could understand, even if they weren’t ones with which I could fully sympathize or empathize; and a realization that even when one likes to treat much of life as just a game, the taking of human lives is something that ought not be enacted all that lightly.

My rating for this film:  5.5