2001, Hong Kong, directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai
Early in Fulltime Killer, one of the protagonists mentions a film he had seen a few years previously. "Not the best movie, but I like the style," he opines, and it is as good a way as any to summarize the present film. Explicit movie references abound - everything from Le Samouraï to El Mariachi by way of Léon - in a cheerful acknowledgement of the constant borrowing that characterizes Hong Kong cinema (with the favour returned by Hollywood, France and other movie producers). The film boasts a top-notch opening in a Malaysian train station, swiftly followed by an over-the-top-notch entrance from the second lead (Andy Lau), who wreaks havoc in a Thai police station. Throughout the film, there's a self-conscious effort to formulate the bloody assassinations as opera, a leaf taken from the John Woo playbook. If Fulltime Killer never quite lives up to the promise of that pair of opening sequences, it's still got style to spare and directors To and Wai never allow the action to flag, which helps to paper over the flimsy plotting, while co-lead Takashi Sorimachi (also, like Lau, a pop star) is excellent. This is, incidentally, the first Hong Kong movie of any stripe that I've seen since reading David Bordwell's Planet Hong Kong. I can't recommend the book highly enough as a tool for thinking about that territory's film production; that it's also a supremely enjoyable read is a huge bonus.