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The Replacement Killers (1998)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/11/2007

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/14/2007

In my recent review for Face/Off, I wrote about the phenomena of American audiences getting their first taste of a John Woo film. (In case you didn't read that review, I didn't refer to Face/Off as Woo's first American film, FYI.) We get a similar effect with 1998's The Replacement Killers. Woo's Hong Kong film's featured an actor named Chow Yun-Fat and his face became just as recognizable as Woo's action style. Just as Woo migrated to Hollywood to make movies, Chow did as well. But, can an American director do for Chow what Woo did for years in Hong Kong?

The Replacement Killers opens with the police raiding a drug smuggling operation on a dock. In the ensuing gunfight, police officer Stan Zedkov (Michael Rooker) shoots and kills Peter Wei (Yau-Gene Chan). Peter's father, Terence Wei (Kenneth Tsang), a crime-lord who rules Chinatown, hires assassin John Lee (Chow Yun-Fat) to get revenge on Zedkov. But, when Lee goes to do the hit (at Zedkov's house), he sees that Zedkov is a happy family man. Overcome with conscience, Lee can't do the hit. Knowing that Wei will want him dead for this treachery, and also knowing that Wei could hurt Lee's family back in China, Lee decides to flee the country. He seeks out Meg Coburn (Mira Sorvino), who specializes in forged passports. While at Meg's office, Wei's men attack. Lee and Meg now find themselves on the run from Wei's thugs, who are determined to kill Lee and anyone who helps him. Meanwhile, Wei has called in two more assassins (the "replacement killers" of the title) to take out Lee and Zedkov. Knowing that Zedkov is still a marked man, and now feeling responsible for Meg, Lee, the former criminal, must now rise up and become a hero.

The Replacement Killers should be a great movie. The film introduced Chow Yun-Fat to American audiences who weren't familiar with his Hong Kong work and gave them their first look at an action hero who is incredibly stoic, but nonetheless cool. Along with the cast members mentioned above, the movie also features other familiar faces, such as Jurgen Prochnow and Danny Trejo (that man is in every movie!) The movie opens with an action scene and the gunfights are plentiful throughout the film. Sorvino brings a much-needed edge to her role -- she's not the "damsel in distress", as she takes down plenty of baddies herself.

However, The Replacement Killers never quite gels. John Woo and his partner Terence Chang are listed as executive producers on the film, but the movie doesn't deliver Woo-like results. Director Antoine Fuqua, making his feature film debut, clearly tries to mimic Woo's Hong Kong action films and he gives the action scenes a very slick look. But, unlike Woo's films, there is never that one moment where the viewer says, "Wow! How did they do that?!" Chow Yun-Fat was never exactly a chatterbox in his Asian films, but as he's easing into English-language movies here, his lack of dialogue makes his character feel like a non-entity. The story is quite simple, offering only one twist towards the end, which is, granted, effective.

I can't put my finger on it, but there's something about The Replacement Killers which just doesn't work. Essentially the movie lacks the heart that one would find in Chow's Hong Kong films. The film attempts to bring emotion and meaning to the characters, but it falls flat. The movie isn't a total loss, as it's got a great look, the action scenes are plentiful, and it's always great to see Chow in action. However, don't expect this movie to measure up to classics like The Killer or Hard-Boiled.

The Replacement Killers shoots its way onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.40:1 and the transfer full HD 1080p. The picture looks very good, as the video is sharp and clear. A very fine sheen of grain can be seen on the image, but there are no defects from the source material. The clarity gives the image a nice depth and the video is quite detailed. (You can see the pores on the actors' faces!) The colors look good and the contrast of light and dark in the film works very well on this transfer. The disc carries an uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio track which sounds very good. The dialogue is sharp and clear and there's no hint of hissing or distortion. The stereo effects work very well, most notably during the action scenes. These scenes also bring out the best in the surround sound and sub effects. There's an explosion in the finale which offered one of the smoothest movements through the sub that I've ever heard. The great audio is definitely a complement to the film.

The Blu-ray release of The Replacement Killers contains two extras. "Chow Yun-Fat Goes Hollywood" (20 minutes) is exactly what you think it would be, as it examines Chow's immigration to the U.S. and his work on the film. We get details about his on-set demeanor and comments from cast and crew on how it was to work with him. "Where the Action Is" (10 minutes) contains some of the same behind-the-scenes footage as the previous featurette, but it offers more of a general "making of", focusing on cast, characters, and the stunt work.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long