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).

Apparently this was a sign of the times, as Hollywood began fully embracing how filmmakers like the legendary John Woo delivered action on screen. And what better way to help absorb and deliver Woo's vision of Chow to American audiences other than Antoine Fuqua, making his directorial debut? That said, I think THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS is a classic, and it had no business flopping when it was released.

If there was going to be a foundation for Chow Yun-Fat to explode onto the scene of Hollywood cinema, this film was it. It had screenwriter Ken Sanzel's perfect script and the perfect package, which took everything we thought we knew about stories involving anti-heroic assassins and bullet ballet, and made it into a spectacular vision of art that translated everything John Woo has done in his career to American theaters in classic action fashion.

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.

Without giving too much away, one of the more memorable scenes include appearances by actors Leo Lee and Patrick Kilpatrick, who have relatively small roles in the film as two of the film's baddies; Lee also happens to be in one of the most memorable fight scenes in martial arts movie history in THE PERFECT WEAPON with the harbinger of Kenpo badassery himself, Jeff Speakman. I also grew up watching the cyberpunk action thriller, CLASS OF 1999, where Kilpatrick creeped me the hell out as one of the main cybervillains in film. So he'll always be cool in my book.

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.

I should also add that the film was such a good formula for Chow Yun Fat that in the years to come, as Chow took on both domestic and international film titles, his post-crossover evolution as an actor became pivotal in helping bring American audiences even closer to the scene of Asian cinema than before, with the successful releases of films like Ang Lee's CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, and CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER from director Zhang Yimou. And if you went to see any of these movies, you likely heard of Chow by then...if not now!

Yes, I felt like saying that. It rhymed and I have no shame. :-P

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! :-D

Chow will star next in the upcoming sequel thriller, COLD WAR 2, with Eddie Peng, and is also slated to appear in the upcoming 3D adventure from director Pou Soi-Cheang's THE MONKEY KING, starring Donnie Yen, Fan Siu-Wong and Kelly Chen, and releasing on Valentine's Day 2014.

Meanwhile, Fuqua is also currently developing his TV-to-film installation of THE EQUALIZER with actor Denzel Washington, actress Chloë Moretz, and newly cast actor Martin Csokas. Collins Jr. is also starring in the upcoming six-part webseries, THE CLEANERS, to be featured on the Sony-owned digital platform, Crackle, later this year.

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.

Happy belated birthday Chow!


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