Two professional hitmen -- a jaded Japanese and a cocksure Cantonese -- lock gun barrels in "Fulltime Killer," Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai's latest high-octane plunge into pop gangster psychology.

Two professional hitmen — a jaded Japanese and a cocksure Cantonese — lock gun barrels in “Fulltime Killer,” Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai’s latest high-octane plunge into pop gangster psychology. More playful than To’s earlier, similarly-themed “A Hero Never Dies,” this Andy Lau showcase more often recalls To’s previous teaming with the star, “Running Out of Time,” rather than of-a-piece classics like “The Longest Night” and “The Mission.” Pic took a nifty HK$26 million ($3.3 million) on local release in August, and should score in ancillary markets.

Freely adapted from a bestselling 1998 novel by Edmond Pang, film shows all the imprints of co-scripter/director Wai Ka-fai in its self-mythologizing take on gangster heroics. It’s also a smartly packaged, pan-Asian production — in four languages, with actors from Japan (TV star Takashi Sorimachi), Taiwan (Kelly Lin) and Hong Kong, and a storyline that flits halfway across the Orient.

Antsy opening, zooming from Kuala Lumpur and the River Kwai to Singapore and Pusan, sets up the leading characters — cool professional O (Sorimachi) and larky film fan Lok Tat-wah (Lau) — as they go about their business. A relative newcomer on the scene, Tat is anxious to prove he’s “better than O” and goad him into a showdown.

In Hong Kong, Tat romances Chin (Lin), a Taiwanese working in a Japanese vidstore who cleans O’s apartment. He also sends O an email, baiting him: “The further you run from death, the closer you get.”

Meanwhile, O has other annoyances, with Interpol cop Albert Lee (Simon Yam) and his assistant Gigi (Cherrie Ying) on his tail. Lee gradually discovers Tat is a failed Olympic marksman with a personal agenda, fulfilling the pic’s mantra: “In our business, you’re bound to rub out someone you know.”

Lau, who also co-produced through his company Teamwork, applies his boyish charm full-throttle to the character of Tat, calmly interrupting a drink with Chin to take out a target in full daylight and completely losing it when he thinks people aren’t taking him seriously. In comparison, Sorimachi is all tightly coiled business as O.

However, pic’s unexpected star turn comes from Yam (for some reason acting in English throughout) who in the final 20 minutes comes into his own. Not for the first time in a Wai script, the movie takes a sudden left turn at the 75-minute point, just when the main story seems finished, completely shifting the goal posts and putting Yam’s character centerstage.

Action sequences, with more f/x than usual in a To/Wai movie, are OK, though only a long mass shoot-out between O and the cops in an apartment block has potential classic status.

Fulltime Killer

Hong Kong

Production

A Teamwork Motion Pictures release of Milkyway Image (H.K.)/Teamwork production, in association with CMC Magnetics. (International sales: Teamwork, Hong Kong) Produced by Johnnie To, Wai Ka-fai, Andy Lau. Executive producer, Shirley Lau. Directed by Jonnie To, Wai Ka-fai. Screenplay, Wai, Joey O'Bryan, based on the novel by Edmond Pang

Crew

Camera (color), Cheng Siu-keung; editor, David Richardson; music, Guy Zerafa, Alex Khaskin; art directors, Silver Cheung, Jerome Fung; sound (stereo), Sammy Lee, Real Gauvreau; stunt coordinator, Wong Chi-wai; special visual effects, Stephen Ma; associate producers, Emily Chan, Bob Wong, Esther Koo; associate director, Law Wing-cheong. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Midnight Madness), Sept. 8, 2001. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Andy Lau, Takashi Sorimachi, Simon Yam, Kelly Lin, Cherrie Ying, Lam Suet. (Cantonese, Japanese, English and Mandarin dialogue.)
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