John Lee is a hired gun who must pay a debt to Asian crime boss Terence Wei. His final mission is to travel to Manhattan to kill the 7-year-old son of the cop responsible for the death of Wei’s son during a drug buy. However, Lee develops a conscious and cannot pull the trigger on the child. He knows this will make him a target and that his mother and sister in Shanghai are living on borrowed time. Trying to return to China, Lee enlists the aid of master forger Meg Coburn to construct a phony passport. But before the job is done, Wei’s trigger men attack and Lee and Coburn begin their long flight, pursued through New York City.
A little over a week ago, actor Chow Yun-Fat celebrated his 58th birthday. And looking back on his career, like many American film fans at the time as other Asian stars like Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li were crossing over, I never heard of Chow until the release of the 1998 action film from Columbia Pictures, THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS. At this stage I was already wondering about other films outside of Hollywood–and to think all I needed to do was take a few steps further into the Asian cinema section of the video store (when those still existed) and look up what was in it.
Anyway, being a young, carefree film fan, I had already seen films like HARD TARGET with Jean-Claude Van Damme and BROKEN ARROW with John Travolta and Christian Slater. But it never really occurred to me to know who the director was. And that was when Chow started making headlines in the weeks leading up to the release of The Replacement Killers, showing a classic screenshot of Chow’s previous film with actor Daniel Lee in the critically acclaimed 1989 Hong Kong action thriller, THE KILLER (pictured left).
Chow Yun-Fat delivers theatrical intensity and passion to the role of “John Lee”, a killer for hire-turned-avenging assassin who redefines his moral code when he chooses not to pull the trigger for his client, “Terence Wei”, a vindictive and begrudged crimeboss out for blood, played by veteran Hong Kong actor Kenneth Tsang. I also really enjoy the chemistry and comradery he shares with actress Mira Sorvino who plays “Meg Coburn”, a forger of illegal documents who could care less about what seasoned detective “Stan Zedkov” thinks until she unwittingly gets caught in the crossfire and becomes a target of the same men John is trying to avoid–the same men who are after Zedkov’s seven year old son.
Another of the more memorable scenes in the film also stands out with actor Clifton Collins Jr., who plays “Loco”, a slick, trash-talking gangbanger who hilariously fails to try and kick it with Meg when the two meet, and also, evidently, manages to come through for our two heroes when the chips are down, showcasing one of my favorite scenes as John and Meg confront Loco in front of his own crew for snitching on them in an earlier scene. John and Meg have nothing to lose as all guns are drawn and John stands their winking his aiming eye at point-blank range, ready to shoot anyone and not giving a you-know-what.
You can litterally cut the tension with a knife…of course, there were no knives here, lol. So…. yeah.
Yes, despite the fact that the film flopped in theaters, I still enjoy watching it. It is tons of fun for any action fan and stands as one of the best action films of the 1990s, an era that cultuvated me in my teens, and shaped me as an action fan to this day. Without The Replacement Killers, some filmmakers and actors wouldn’t have had a reference to work with in creating some of their own content in the years to come. It’s films like this that have further shaped the way action films were made in Hollywood, and abroad. Some would call that influence. And while somecritical thinkers might look at this article and see it as some sort of nostalgic fan-rant about the 90s and a movie they probably didn’t like, then…well, thank you for reading! 😀
THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS also stars Michael Rooker, Jürgen Prochnow, Til Schweiger, Danny Trejo and Carlos Gomez. You can find on DVD and BluRay at Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Google Movies & TV or wherever movies are sold or streamed.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.