The Replacement Killers has aged well and remains an entertaining and well made actioner; this new release from Mill Creek has no special features (or even the Director’s Cut) but it as at least well priced if you just want to own the movie.
Plot: A Chinese assassin refuses his final job, prompting his employer to hire “replacement killers” to complete the job … and eliminate him as well.
Review: John Lee (Chow Yun-Fat in his first English language crossover film) is quite easily the best assassin on the market, but he’s been working exclusively for a Chinese crime boss (played by Kenneth Tsang) who has been holding him under contract for some years, keeping a close eye on his family in China as collateral. When his son is killed by a plainclothes cop named Zedkov (Michael Rooker), the crime lord calls John in for his final job: Kill Zedkov’s 8-year old son in front of him as revenge. Once completed, John will be released of his obligation and his family will be released from the watchful eye of the crime lord’s long reach. Faced with the callous hit of murdering a little boy, John seizes before pulling the trigger and knows he has sealed his own fate. “Replacement Killers” are called in to complete the job, and the crime lord’s enforcer (played by Jurgen Prochnow) personally sees to it that the job is completed and John Lee is eliminated – and his family in China as well – for his betrayal. John is no easy target, though, and instead of just ignoring the fact that professional killers are out to kill Zedkov’s kid, he steps up and makes every effort to ensure that the boy survives. In the mix and by his side through a bullet-thrashed trek to redemption is a scrappy black market underworld go-getter named Meg (Mira Sorvino) who at first despises how fate has dumped John in her world, but she soon realizes he’s much more than a human terminator without emotions. They become a solid team and over the next few days there will be an astronomical amount of damage as the replacement killers (played by Danny Trejo and Til Schweiger) dog their every step.
I vividly remember seeing this theatrically opening day, and I’ve seen it a few times over the years, but I’m quite surprised at how well it’s aged in 25 years. It was Antoine Fuqua’s first film, and he displayed a real eye for action, with exaggerated angles, slow-mo style, and a penchant for movement and to-the-second editing that made the movie seem even bigger than it was. It’s no wonder that he eventually started working on Jerry Bruckheimer epics like King Arthur just a handful of years later. With a tight pace, a good Hans Zimmer-styled score by Harry Gregson-Williams and a persuasive, yet understated performance by Yun-Fat, the movie might’ve barely made its mark in ’98 (it was technically not a hit), but it’s still a very solid piece of action filmmaking.
Mill Creek just released a barebones Blu-ray of The Replacement Killers, and while the transfer looks okay, this release is a little disappointing because previous releases offered the director’s cut (which is about 10 minutes longer), and a special edition that had some bonus features on it. If you want an affordable disc without any bells and whistles, this release should do the trick.