Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Full Time Killer

Some people just can't bear to be second best, but being the best might make you reconsider. That's the dilemma between Tok (Andy Lau) and O. (Takshi Sorimachi.) O. is known as the best assassin in the business. He is confident and efficient and finds it very easy to kill people.

This is demonstrated quite well in the opening as he's stopped by an old school friend who recognizes him. O. insists that he doesn't know him, unfortunately the friend doesn't take the hint, and fills O. in on on his marriage and five kids, even thanking O. for notes that helped him pass his classes. The friend is horrified when O. spots his target and starts shooting. The friend has the sense to run, but O. can't let him go, gunning him down before he escapes the station. O. tells us "a friend once said, In our business you're bound to rub out someone you know."

O.'s problem is that he's thoughtful and tired. He narrates in the opening  "Killing is easy. It's harder to put the memory behind you." He's calm and able to deal with any remorse easily, all the same there are some things he can't forget.

Tok is another matter. In contrast to O.'s quiet professionalism, Tok enjoys being noticed and making a scene. We first see him entering a police station, with a large bouquet of flowers held by a shotgun stem. After killing every policeman in the building he finds his target in a jail cell. Not content to kill him and leave quietly, Tok tosses a bagful of grenades in the man's cell, before pulling the pin on a single grenade and tossing it in with the rest, leaving the victim to spend his last moments searching for the live one. Tok narrates his opening also, revealing that he loves action movies, particularly "El Mariachi" (he likes the style)

The conflict between the two men is established as Tok meets his employers in a bar for payment and complains about the amount he's paid, warning them that the next one will really cost them. One of them yells at Tok "Who the fuck do you think you are, O.?" Tok pins the man's hand to the bar with a knife and proclaims he's better than O. and will expect double O.s rate in the future." The boss tells him that O makes less noise and is more efficient. "He's a spirit." telling Tok, that he'll continue getting the low pay, before storming out, informing Tok that they'll call if they need him.

We next meet Chin (Kelly Lin) a Japanese video store clerk from Taiwan . She says customers can't figure out where she's from but doesn't matter as she's just an ordinary girl with a routine existence. She returns home after work and finds a note asking her to clean up a broken bottle of beer (from Ono) She smiles reading it and changes clothes in front of the window before cleaning it up. O. watches with a zoom lens from a dark apartment across the street, narrating that Chin is cleaning his apartment, although he really lives across the street, a safety precaution for his occupation.

Chin and O. meet in a cafe occasionally, but never have much to say as "they're both shy." Chin asks O. why he hired her when she had no cleaning experience. He tells her it was because her ad had tear away strips at the bottom. She lets it go at that, but O. realizes that he was mistaken. The previous cleaning girl, "Nancy" had the tear away strips. Chin's ad had been posted in the same place. O. recalls Nancy with much affection, waving guns around, crawling across the floor in scuba gear, and other behavior seemingly aware that O. was watching her from across the road.

O is interrupted by a message on his computer saying "the further you run from death, the closer you'll get." He sends a message back asking Tok (we see him at another computer) how he got the address. Tok grins from ear to ear and shuts the computer down. We then find Chin at a video store discussing with a customer, a "strange man" in the store. We see Tok, looking through the videos in a Bill Clinton mask and Chin explains that he has come in every day with a different US president mask, like the guys in the movie "Point Break."  Chin is curious about his face, suspecting he's good looking and has great confidence. Renting a movie (in the mask) Tok explains that he doesn't have a VCR. Chin remarks that he rents movies everyday and he tells her that's why he only rents movies he's already seen.He quickly tells Chin in conversation that he's a professional killer, although she doesn't know whether to believe him or not.

Hong Kong Police, including Detective Lee (Simon Yam) are speaking with O's friend's (the witness he killed) widow who is distraught and pregnant besides. They explain that they know it was a professional killer and that he may have been an old friend, as they spoke Japanese to each other. The widow begs them to find the killer.

Chin and Tok are soon out seeing a movie. Chin is clearly intrigued. Tok explains that he loves movie trailers, as they are the best of a movie, like the way your life flashes before your eyes as you die. "Life should be so exciting" he says as he moves to hold her hand. She smiles seeing that he's removed his mask. Tok brings her to the same restaurant she visits with O. He explains that he has to kill a Japanese man but wants to make friends with him first, but can't because he doesn't speak Japanese. He shows Chin a vial of poison and tells her how he made it from cigarettes and water. Chin tells him not to tease her, as sometimes she almost believes he's a killer. He excuses himself for fifteen minutes, saying "gotta kill some people, be right back."

O is in a building nearby, disguised and doing surveillance. He happens to see Tok in his Clinton mask walking flamboyantly down the middle of the road and opening fire on a car full of armed men (presumably a target O was scoping out for later). O. takes pictures with his zoom lens. He's surprised when Tok looks directly at him and removes his mask. He arrives back at the restaurant and tells Chin he was successful at killing four men and giving the shaft to Asia's number one assassin. Chin takes him more seriously when police cars and ambulances start flooding the area Tok had come from.

O. has developed the pictures (he knows he's seen Tok somewhere before) and has faxed one to the police. He discusses Tok with his employer, who tells him that Tok is showy and needs attention, but works cheap and always gets the job done. They conclude that challenging O. is how he plans to get noticed. Tok, meanwhile is showing Chin how to use a sniper rifle. Chin is angry that he almost had her kill someone. Tok asks questions about O, and she says she hardly knows him, as if he doesn't even live there. She tells Tok, that she left a Snoopy figurine on his table once and since then he brings back a Snoopy figurine from everywhere he travels. Chin had started watching the news in those places, realizing that everywhere he went that country would have a murder or assassination. She has deduced that the flat is a cover and also knows that his last cleaner disappeared without a trace. Chin says she changes clothes in front of the window thinking he might be watching. While they talk, O. remembers disposing of the last cleaning lady. Tok and Chin are about to make love, but a flickering light clearly distresses him, sending him to the bathroom.

O. recalls the whole scene leading up to Nancy's (the last cleaning lady) death. He watched men attack her from across the street, but wasn't able to get there in time. Chin tells O. she's quitting because she met someone, offering to give him two weeks to find someone. Tok calls Chin at the video store and tells her how to find his assignments in the newspapers. His employers have him combine certain words from ads in several publications. Chin reads him what's there, and Tok tells her he's being set up, as they contacted him too quickly.

The police are investigating the picture of Tok when the Detective Lee has a breakthrough seeing a TV show about the Olympics. Going to the library to look for a picture, they realize that O. had just been looking for the same information moments before. They just miss running into O., and realize he has torn a picture from the book, suggesting that Tok, was a shooting competitor in the Olympics.

Tok meanwhile is wary heading to his assignment. A random person in the crowd kills Tok's target, and tries to kill him, shortly followed by police swamping the station to get him confirming his suspicions. Tok has a seizure after escaping the cops, induced by the lights of a subway which he narrowly avoids getting hit by. O. has done his research and found that Tok's Olympic bid was stopped when despite his great ability, the pressure caused him to miss his targets and he collapsed with a seizure. (this had also happened to Tok's brother previously) O. makes a note to find out about the brother.

Tok then shows up at his employer's house demanding to be paid. When he refuses and has his men attack Tok, they are surprised when Tok turns the tables and kills them all.

O. is on a motorcycle, pulling up next to a car for his latest assignment. He hesitates a moment hearing the song on the car radio that he associates with Nancy. He gets shot slightly but manages to kill most of the men in the car, although his main victim starts running. Chasing after him, he realizes that someone is shooting at him from a nearby rooftop. Tok comes down to confront him, telling him he doesn't deserve to be number one. O' realizes his manager had betrayed him and rushes to his apartment assuming they'd come after him and find Chin. He manages to get there as they're putting her in a car, rescuing her, with only a fake gun he had at the fake apartment. O. gives chin the address where he lives across the street from the fake one and tells her to go there. Chin realizes of course that he has been watching her.

O. confronts his manager over the betrayal, who reveals that he is actually Tok's brother. Tok shoots him in his good hand rather than killing him and Tok arrives to bandage him up. The police meanwhile find O's apartment and come after him. He gets there before them and gives Chin a bulletproof vest warning her that if she comes with him "her whole life will change." She responds by grabbing a shotgun and following him. The police nearly catch him, resulting in a shootout where they almost catch him, having him surrounded in the street. He escapes when Tok, starts shooting cops from a nearby rooftop. Detective Lee is distraught as his partner is seriously inured most likely terminal.

Tok shows up at the police department after hours with a box of information on O. He tells the detective that he can have the information in exchange for the Snoopys confiscated from O's apartment. Tok suggests that Detective Lee write a book about the two of them (Tok and O,) and after a brief scuffle, Tok takes the Snoopys and disappears. The detective snow starts narrating, referencing that he didn't return to Hong Kong as O's story was in Singapore. He is frustrated as can't finish the book with the two of them still out there. He then gets a call from Chin, who tells him she'll help him finish the story. She then pics up the story from her and O. escaping the police.

Chin reveals to O that she knew Nancy, and she was her only friend in Hong Kong. Nancy had suspected that O was a killer and when she disappeared, Chin had posted an ad in the same place Nancy had. She soon became convinced that he was a killer. O tells her that he didn't kill Nancy, and reveals that he wants to retire and her to come along. He realizes he'll have to settle things with Tok first. They soon find a contract on O in the papers. Chin and O are out for dinner when Tok shows up at their table with the Snoopy's in a box for Chin. Tok and O start talking and get along very well. They laugh and have drinks although both are aware that one will have to kill the other.

O gets in Tok's car with him, and Tok asks if he knows the "Metal Slug" video game and "where the hidden weapons are." O says he knows it by heart. Tok has set up a warehouse to simulate the Metal Slug video game and the two race inside to have their showdown, finding hidden weapons in crates and barrels, including bulletproof vests, grenades and night vision goggles. They search for each other behind stacks of boxes. Each gets the better of the other momentarily until a gunshot ignites fireworks in the boxes, leading to a major display of fireworks and collapsing boxes ending with both on the ground. Tok recovers first and shoots O. dead before raising his hands in victory and walking away.

Chin and the Detective Lee are still talking and Chin explains that
"they both got what they wanted, Tok wanted to be a legend and as for O, he just wished that no one knew of his existence."

He asks if Tok said anything. Chin replies, "he said I'm the gold medalist of assassins." The detective is delighted to have an ending and lights up a cigarette, before something occurs to him and he runs outside after Chin. Chin is speeding away in the car that O. is driving, and he imagines another scenario, where the fireworks trigger Tok's seizure and he's shot while foaming at the mouth, lying on the ground. He drops the story to the ground but then reconsiders, saying  "the book needs an ending. How much of what she said was true and how much was fiction, does it really matter? Who am I to argue?"

While "Full Time Killer" is perhaps not a revolution in cinema. It hits me as an affectionate look at the western and noir genres's. The retiring assasin versus the young gun has been done many times, but the depth given to these characters makes it come across as their own story. The predictable ending would've been for Tok, to take over O's spot and find it was a whole lot more than he wanted, but here we have a challenger who is ultimately his own worst enemy. There's the the ending recalling Jimmy Stewart in "The Man who Shot Liberty Valance" the central theme of "The Gunfighter," O's spying on a murder suggesting "Rear Window" and of course many more. This is a film that loves film, and as a fan of the genres involved, I couldn't help but be amused.

This is an action film first, and a character piece second, and it never claims to be otherwise, but the distinctive styles of Tok and O are enough to link the explosions together with a real interest in what happens to these men. Andy Lau is terrific as the show-off that you don't want to like, but can't help smiling at (aside from all his murders) He wishes (and clearly states as much) that life was as exciting as a  movie. Chin is a great link between them, a woman who doesn't belong and seems like a killer magnet, and evokes genuine interest from both men. She's a willing accomplice, no more alarmed by a shootout with the police, than renting movies at the video store. Takashi Sorimachi plays the cool, efficient O, wonderfully as the best killer in Asia who is at the same time too shy to approach a woman showing interest.

Directors Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai take a fairly grim story and fill it with a wonderful energy. Tok in particular, seems to view his occupation as a chance to be fully alive, while O views it as what must be done to pay the bills, yet he still comes to life when faced with the unexpected. Although he'd rather be unnoticed, he does crave excitement. When cornered at his apartment, O smiles at Detective Lee, as if to taunt him into a shoot out. The showiness of Tok is present in O, but Tok is already the best and has no stigma to overcome such as a family Olympics failure. Both men enjoy the competition, each being perhaps the others only peer. Although both expect to get betrayed by employers, killed or arrested, they have a camaraderie, that others can't understand, as seen in the restaurant before their final showdown. In a way they're the best of friends, but in their world, to be the best of friends, one has to kill the other.


THREE said...

Oh wow I had no idea Criminal Movies featured Asian flicks too. Even though I'm not that big a fan of 'criminal' movies, back in my teens and early 20's, I made an exception when it came to Asian action flicks. Yeah, I know, if you're not an Asian movie fan, these kind of movies don't really stimulate your taste buds. Asian movies, just like "Western" movies, or "European" movies (basically movies made by people of certain 'cultures'), have that culturally-influenced factor in them that requires some understanding in order to fully appreciate the essence of the movie. Good review :) (or it's just me being biased because I'm Asian :p)

[reposted... thanks to Blogger error]

INDBrent said...

Hi Three,

Glad you enjoyed it! Asian action flicks definitely have their own "flavor." T appreciate that it's not everyone's cup of tea, but directors like Johhnie To, and John Woo have really put their own stamp on the anti hero mythology.
It's unfortunate that films like this one don't reach a wider audience.

Movies to Watch said...

Andy Lau was one of my favorite asian actor. Will watch it for sure..

INDBrent said...

Lau is fantastic in this one!