Courtesy Photo
Opened: Friday, February 6, 1998
Rated: R

Directed by Antoine Fuqua

Starring Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Jurgen Prochnow & Danny Trejo.

"The Replacement Killers"

Action heroes don't come any cooler than Chow Yun-Fat. I mean cool in the old-fashioned sense of the word -- calm, smooth, calculating and impossible to catch off guard. The man is an ice cube with an arsenal.

The biggest movie star in Asia (after Jackie Chan), Chow starred in the Hong Kong shoot-'em-ups that got legendary director John Woo ("Face/Off") his ticket to Hollywood, and now he has his own starring vehicle in American theaters, "The Replacement Killers."

The fact that Chow's reputation is the crux of the marketing for "Killers" is proof positive that his trademark stylish, relentlessly-paced gunplay is the future of the action genre.

Very much in the John Woo/Chow Yun-Fat vein, fans of their earlier work will find this film a little familiar. The hero is a hired assassin with a conscience, who finds himself on the run from his employers after refusing to complete a contract on the 7-year-old son of a police detective.

While trying to escape to China, he entangles a passport forger (Mira Sorvino) in the chase, who subsequently convinces him that refusing to kill the kid is not enough -- if he cares at all, he must stop his replacements from finishing the job too.

Much like the 1995 Hong Kong-style spaghetti Western "Desperado," "Killers" basically follows an angsted-out and honorable gunslinger on a endless ammo rampage with a sexy, weapon-savvy babe in tow.

But the plot for this kind of movie is secondary anyway. This formula is dependent on two things: electrifying, high-gloss shoot-outs and a charismatic star.

Freshman director Antoine Fuqua passably apes John Woo's methods (Woo co-produced this movie, by the way), crafting some creative and exciting, albeit absurd, showdowns. Chow takes out half a dozen generic baddies (leather jackets, acne scars) in a car wash, another handful in an arcade and one or two more in a movie theater during a Mr. Magoo cartoon.

Fuqua's direction is very slick but a little sloppy. He effortlessly cranks out lavish scenes like the chase that finds Chow -- on foot with dual hand cannons ablaze -- stalking a mafioso-packed car speeding in reverse down a narrow alley. But the director doesn't blend his moods well and lurches a bit between action sequences and atmosphere scenes.

But the seductive presence of Chow Yun-Fat gives the movie undeniable allure that overshadows its faults.

Like a cross between Humphrey Bogart and Antonio Banderas, he carries himself with a hard-boiled, sexy elegance that is one reason his "guy" movies appeal to women too. He also has the amazing, inexplicable ability to bestow gunfights with a ballet-like grace.

With Chow's arrival on these shores, coupled with the heavy Asian influence in the latest James Bond picture, there is no doubt that Hong Kong-style thrillers have supplanted the Schwarzenegger/ Willis/ Stallone school of action in Hollywood.

Classic John Woo/Chow Yun-Fat collaborations like "Hard Boiled" and "The Killer" are still far superior product -- but "The Replacement Killers" pays homage well.

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