I've always thought that any work of art--film included--ought to be judged on the basis of what it attempts in relation to whatever genre it belongs to. So I would heartily disagree with film critics who bash action films because they're not "deep" enough or "complex" enough. Too much development can slow down the action, so for me the most important thing is whether a movie sustains its roller-coaster ride and provides interesting enough characters for us to care whether they live or die. And, of course, the universe that filmmakers create must be driven by some logic.
I'm not sure what audiences were expecting when Hong Kong action star Chow Yun-Fat made his Hollywood debut, but "The Replacement Killers" delivers the same stylish, two-fisted (make that two blazing pistols) action that made the actor one of the genre's giants. Antoine Fuqua, who would go on to direct "Training Day," seems to have a pretty good handle on the Hong Kong action film, and the shots he frames, the edgy cuts, the breakneck pacing, and thumping back-music all provide proof.
But I'm also not sure that "The Replacement Killers" adds anything to the genre, or if it just takes those familiar elements and scrambles them a bit for our viewing pleasure. Certainly the plot is familiar. John Lee (Chow) is a hired killer whom we see casually walking into a club and taking out a Latino kingpin and all his thugs. He's not even close to that clichéd gunman who's suddenly lost his nerve. And yet, when Chinese crime boss Terence Wei (Kenneth Tsang) gives him another job--a cop Wei blames for his son's death--he can't pull the trigger. Make that won't, because frankly, if he does, there's no movie. Everything gets rolling when Wei gets wind of Lee's refusal and decides to sic a bunch of "replacement killers" on him and on the original target.
It's all pretty standard, and there's nothing unusual in the way of pyrotechnics or shoot-'em-ups, yet Ken Sanzel gives us a script that's just good enough and makes it better by including a prominent female character who turns out to be more interesting than most of the males posturing and blasting away at each other. In fact, Mia Sorvino ("Mighty Aphrodite") seems a natural as Meg Coburn, a tough-minded passport forger who's drawn into an uneasy partnership with Lee. Any character development rests squarely on how each sees the other, and she and Chow have a nice chemistry that makes us want to mentally climb into the car behind them and follow along on this crazy (but yes, predictable) ride. There's really not much more to say, the arc and trajectory of this plot are so simple.
There are a few moments, though, when a largely realistic tone and treatment gives way to comic-book style action--as when we first see the replacement killers. I mean, don't professional killers try to blend in? Not these guys. They dress like killers, sneer like killers, and stride through airport crowds as if they want everybody to know they're killers. Same with a few "Kung-Fu" moments when this Grasshopper interacts with an old master who's trying to help him. Yet, the film still holds plenty of appeal, and I think that mostly has to do with Sorvino and Chow.
I don't have the standard DVD to compare this to, but the Blu-ray is pretty pristine. The 1080p picture is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, and the level of detail is very good. Nighttime scenes still hold plenty of detail, and bright interiors and exteriors are saturated with bright colors. Black levels are strong enough to keep dark scenes from simply looking grey or murky.
Once again, the English PCM 5.1 uncompressed sound is awesome, and there are bullets zinging here and there and enough explosions per frame to make you appreciate all six channels. The bass is robust without vibrating too much, and the treble is rich. There's even an Italian PCM 5.1 track. Additional sound options are French, Italian, English, and Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1, with as many subtitle options as there are rounds of ammunition: English, English SDH, Arabic, French, Korean, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Norwegian, Polish, Turkish, Hungarian, Swedish, Italian, Icelandic, Bulagarian, Slovene, Croatian, Romanian, Thai, Spanish, Portuguese, and (of course) Chinese. All of which proves, maybe, that action violence has a universal appeal.
When the extended cut came out on DVD, Eddie Feng complained that the extras weren't nearly as substantial as on the first release. That's the case here too, with only a routine making-of documentary and a short feature titled "Chow Yun-Fat Goes Hollywood." There's not much depth here, not much in the way of interesting anecdotes, and . . . well, there's just not much of anything. It's all fluff, all promo stuff.
Tonal inconsistency and a straightforward, familiar plot are the two major criticisms I have of this otherwise engaging film. But those negatives are offset by non-stop action, while the cinematography by Peter Lyons Collister and music by Harry Gregson-Williams are positively dripping with style. Add Sorvino's likeable character and decent chemistry between the stars, and it's hard not to be entertained by Chow's first Hollywood effort. Or maybe it just looks and sounds so darned good on Blu-ray that it's hard to resist.