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Intermission

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by Jim Wunderle

"The Replacement Killers"

Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Mira Sorvino

Rated: R

For those who like their action movies plausible and realistic ... well, "The Replacement Killers" is probably not for you.

On the other hand, if you want to learn why veteran Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-Fat is usually billed as "international action superstar" Chow Yun-Fat, this is a good place to start. One has to suspend disbelief to enjoy it, to be sure, but there are things to be enjoyed.

Yun-Fat began his career in 1976, doing 128 episodes of a Hong Kong TV series called "Hotel." After gaining stardom via television, the actor began making feature films in 1977. His first breakthrough came in 1982, with the commercially and critically successful "The Story of Woo Viet," with Hong Kong "new wave" director Ann Hui.

In 1985, he won best actor awards from both the Asian Pacific Film Festival and the Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan for his starring role in "Hong Kong 1941."

In 1986, Yun-Fat starred in no less than 12 feature films, including his first effort with director John Woo. That film, "A Better Tomorrow," broke box office records throughout Asia and raised the actor's status to that of "international superstar."

With that kind of history, it seems amazing that "The Replacement Killers" is actually Yun-Fat's first American release. Videophiles who are fans of the action genre are no doubt familiar with his work, as John Woo's "The Killer" and "Hard Boiled" are video store staples.

Another interesting vehicle for the actor was Ringo Lam's "City on Fire," for which he won a best actor award at the Hong Kong Academy Awards.

This film is cited by many as being the inspiration (some say the very blueprint) for Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs." It's not as readily available as the John Woo films, but action fans are advised to seek this one out.

So, after two decades in the movie business, Yun-Fat finally comes to America. "The Replacement Killers" is far from his best work, but at least it will introduce this formidable actor to the Western world, so some good will surely come of it.

Yun-Fat plays John Lee, a man who owes a debt of service to a powerful Chinese mob boss. Lee is paying off his debt by doing hits. His latest assignment is a revenge killing. He's to assassinate a police officer who has killed the boss's son. The twist is, he must kill the cop in front of the officer's 7-year-old boy. I suppose even professional hit men have their limits, and Lee just can't go through with the job. This puts him on the mob's bad side, and the boss man brings in another couple of guys (the "replacement killers" from the title) to knock off Lee, the cop and the cop's kid.

Along the way, Lee hooks up with Meg Coburn (Mira Sorvino), a young woman who specializes in forging passports. We soon learn she's pretty handy with a gun, as well. I'll have to admit, as much as I like Sorvino, the previews to this film made her look just a little bit silly. To her credit (she has won an Oscar, you know) she pulls this part off quite well. She must have gotten a few pointers from her dad, Paul, who was one of the mob bosses in Scorsese's "Good Fellas."

The plot, as mentioned above, is thoroughly implausible, and director Antoine Fuqua is best known for directing rock videos (enough said?), but besides the mere presence of Chow Yun-Fat, there are a few clever scenes.

There's a shootout in an automatic car wash wherein Yun-Fat uses his pistols as propulsion devices. There's another shootout in a pinball arcade, and a personal favorite of mine, a big shootout at a movie theater.

I was a janitor at the Gillioz Theater years ago, and I have to tell you, it was bad enough cleaning up after the kind of crowd that came to see "Smokey and the Bandit," so I can only imagine what it must be like after a major gun battle in the balcony.

"The Replacement Killers" won't win any awards and probably won't do all that well at the box office (compared to Yun-Fat's other blockbusters), but it is a pleasure to see this international action superstar finally break through in the United States.

Action fans will not be disappointed, and we can only hope that Yun-Fat will continue to make movies here in the West.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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