Missing Reels: “Fulltime Killer” (2001)

Missing Reels examines overlooked, unappreciated or unfairly maligned movies. Sometimes these films haven’t been seen by anyone, and sometimes they’ve been seen by everyone… who loathed them. Sometimes they’ve simply been forgotten. But in any case, Missing Reels argues that they deserve to be seen and admired by more people.

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Hong Kong has long been the source of lots of great action, from the Shaw Brothers’ kung fu epics, to John Woo’s ultra-cool crime stories of the ’80s and ’90s. But while many people may think that the action scene has moved on to other parts (mostly Thailand and South Korea, plus a mini-boom of excellent American direct-to-video films like “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” and its ilk), there’s still a lot to offer from the once reigning king of cinematic punches and gunshots. Johnnie To is most famous for his “Election” films, gripping crime dramas about rival gangs and who controls them, but before he made those, he directed a film (with Wai Ka-Fai) that oozes charm, a clever narrative structure and excellent action sequences.

2001’s “Fulltime Killer” is the story of two rival assassins: O (Takashi Sorimachi) is a methodical and utilitarian killer for hire who dispatches his targets with a cold, emotionless disconnect; Lok (Andy Lau) is a flamboyant slayer of men who is inspired by western action flicks and makes each kill an operatic masterpiece of mayhem. O is the top assassin in Asia, given the big paying jobs because he always gets them done and remains steps ahead of Interpol. Lok is sick of living in O’s shadow and decides to target the top dog by first integrating himself into O’s life, then by taking out O’s targets himself, before eventually directly confronting the killer. It’s a blend of the cool of John Woo’s “The Killer,” the tense buddy relationship at the heart of “Hard Boiled,” mixed with the self-reflective skin of a Tarantino bloodbath.

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