FULLTIME KILLER was Hong Kong's official entry for the Academy's Best Foreign Film of 2002, and I admire the optimism of those who thought this over-adrenalized action film might be Oscar material. The film presents a souped-up, cartoony view of the underworld that might be termed Tarantinoesque--except, of course, Hong Kong was here first with this sort of movie; indeed, they were pumping out these things back when the auteur of PULP FICTION was still a video store clerk.And they do it quite well: the action scenes here are often splendid--impressively propulsive and balletic, though in a rather unbelievable manner. Characters routinely jump through hails of bullets without getting a mark on their clothes. Realism, though, is not what FULLTIME KILLER is about. To understate wildly.
Consider the plot: We have two hitmen, one an experienced assassin considered the "Number One" killer in Hong Kong (nicknamed "O"), the other a brash youngster who hopes to unseat him (called "Tok"). They play an elaborate cat-and-mouse game around the city, which includes competing for the affections of the woman they both love, O's housekeeper. If this sounds contrived, consider also that O keeps a collection of Snoopy toys representing all the people he's killed, and Tok sometimes whacks people while wearing a Bill Clinton Halloween mask. They are, basically, comic-book thugs.
Directors Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai are "hip" to a fault; the movie is loaded with action-film references (Point Break and Leon are name-checked), and the film's climax takes place in a warehouse designed after O and Tok's favorite video game. Silly? Yes, but at least the silliness is intentional. This is not the sort of movie that you have to believe in to enjoy properly. The action sequences are often clever, the pace is kept comfortably swift without lapsing into monotony.
But sometimes the directors fail even on the comic-book level; key narrative information is sometimes presented in a maddeningly elliptical manner, causing needless confusion here and there. They're so addicted to the hopped-up action sequences that they try to get the exposition over in the same way.It's utterly implausible from beginning to end--and I didn't even tell you about the brain-tumor subplot. But here, that's just part of the fun.