This edition of Upstream is vintage 90s shoot ’em up The Replacement Killers. Director Antione Fuqua was clearly inspired by late 80s early 90s Gun-fu movies like The Killer, Hard Boiled, and A Better Tomorrow. Deciding to go to the source Chow Yun-Fat stars along side Mira Sorvino in what would be young Fuqua’s breakout movie before going on to direct Training Day, Shooter, and Olympus Has Fallen. This movie seemed to have everything going for it. HK Cinema was finally catching on in the mainstream in the US and Chow Yun-Fat was poised to be the bridge that connected Hollywood and Hong Kong. Alas this was not meant to be, read on to see what went wrong (and right) with The Replacement Killers.
Well the easiest indicator anyone can cite for if a film worked or not is box office, while that by no means determines if the movie is good or not, making money is sort of the purpose. The Replacement Killers brought just under $20 million domestically with an estimated budget of $30 million. This was a sizable budget considering it was the 90s and there were no big names attached. Movies made in Hong Kong routinely turn out surprising good despite the anemic (by US standards) budgets…sometimes doing more with less makes for creative innovation. The art house crowd routinely filled second run movie theaters to see double features of God of Gamblers and The Killer, but those fans just didn’t flock to see Chow’s American debut. Maybe the allure of seeing something not everyone was hip to just wasn’t there for the HK film hipsters.
The story is fairly basic, Chow Yun-Fat plays a paid assassin (I know, shocking departure) that is given a job that causes him to question his path in life. That decision spells doom for him and he is forced to relocate pronto. Cue Mira Sorvino as Meg, the travel agent (forger) for the underworld. Mira is a lovely actress and has the acting chops (and the Oscar to prove it) to carry just about any role. However she is hopelessly miscast as a street tough, gun savvy, forger in this movie. The nonexistent chemistry between the two leads was distracting…they literally seemed like they were acting in separate movies. I really wanted to like this movie, being a huge fan of HK movies (yes, I was one of those hipsters) and liking Sorvino in Mimic and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. The story sort of meanders through all the boilerplate scenes, gun battle, chase, police department, car wash gun battle, car chase, arcade gun battle, Buddhist temple, big gun battle. They were shot well enough, but just lacked any sort of real finesse or style. Imagine your Hong Kong gun-fu movie is a punker that was dressed entirely at Hot Topic…everything sort of looks right, but it is just off.
I wish I had better things to tell you about this movie. I’m sure it was hindered at least partially by Chow’s problems with the English language at the time. I found it silly that even the Chinese characters in the movie spoke English even to each other…Americans are just so resistant to subtitles. This is even more ironic considering Sorvino speaks Mandarin fluently, something that was never exploited in the film. It’s worth the watch for all the firsts, Chow Yun-Fat’s American debut, Antione Fuqua’s first full length film, and supposedly setting the record for most bullets fired in an American film (clearly this has been surpassed, but hey it was the 90s). Oh, and Michael Rooker and Danny Trejo both appear!