Fulltime Killer



Quan zhi sha shou/Chuen jik sat sau : Hong Kong 2001 : Johnnie To & Wai Ka Fai : 100 mins

Tok (Andy Lau) likes movies. He doesn’t care what kind, “as long as they’re not boring, and have fresh ideas.” So, would he like Fulltime Killer, in which he’s one of not one but two full-time killers? Well, probably. For the first hour at least, it’s anything but boring: as well as being an obsessive visitor to his local video store, Tok is also an absurdly flamboyant professional assassin, pulling of a series of audacious hits which nod to various action films. “You haven’t seen enough movies!” he roars, outraged at his fellow-hoods’ lack of cine-literacy.

His head filled with John Woo imagery, Tok can’t rest until he’s usurped the much more low-key O (Takashi Sorimachi) to become the east Asia’s number one full-time killer. From here on, things get more complicated, as Tok befriends Chin (Kelly Lin), a young woman employed by O to clean his apartment, though O himself prefers to lurk in a ‘safe house’ across the street. As the body-count rises, high-ranking policeman Lee (Simon Yam) becomes determined to stop the bloodshed, aided by his sidekick Gigi (Cherrie Ying).

There are many sources of amusement in the breezily rough-and-ready Fulltime Killer, not least the way the captions suggest the action is moving all over the far east, though alert viewers may suspect we actually never leave Hong Kong. Gigi is also scene-stealingly good value – Ying doesn’t seem to have taken many acting lessons, and it’s a delight to hear some very odd lines, presumably the result of botched translations (“a smartie is watching you”), being spoken in her weirdly English-style HK accent.

It’s very hard to dislike a film which spends much time explaining how two brothers succumbed to a mysterious brain disorder that caused them to vomit a porridge-like substance just as they were on the verge of winning China’s first-ever Olympic sharpshooting gold medals. In what’s presumably a sop to the IOC, however, the script goes through major contortions to avoid actually using the word ‘Olympics’ – but this just adds to the quirky fun.

Because, as long as the emphasis is on the firecracker Lau, Fulltime Killer clicks along at a very merry clip. The final half-hour, however, sees the spotlight shift rather abruptly to Yam’s grizzled cop Lee – an intriguingly no-nonsense figure, but it feels like we’ve switched channels to watch an entirely different movie. As Lee sits down at a typewriter to set down the tale of O and Tok, the picture belatedly starts taking itself seriously – and ends up almost totally incomprehensible. By this point, it’s safe to say, Tok would have long since pressed ‘eject.’

16th March, 2002
(seen 15th February, Cinemaxx Berlin – Berlin Film Festival)

by Neil Young
Back to Film Index