Although 1999's 'The Matrix' is widely credited with being the first film to bring the ultra-violent Hong Kong aesthetic of action filmmaking to the American masses, it certainly wasn't the first to try. Preceding 'The Matrix' by a full year, 'The Replacement Killers' is an eager little action flick that clearly intended to marry hardcore Hong Kong action with high-gloss American style, throwing in a little bit of that Tarantino so-hip-it-hurts dialogue for good measure.
Headlining his first big-budget American action flick, Chow Yun-Fat stars as professional killer John Lee. After betraying Mr. Wei, a ruthless crime boss who hired him to avenge his son's death, Lee enlists the aid of beautiful document forger Meg Coburn (Mira Sorvino) in an attempt to return to China to protect his family from the vengeful Wei. But Wei's army of "replacement killers" is hot on his trail, and now both he and Meg are targets of their impressive firepower. With both sides fully armed and determined to fight to the death, a shoot-out to end all shoot-outs is all but assured when they finally face off against each other.
'Replacement Killers' has no apparent aspiration to be anything other than a slick, ultra-violent amalgam of grindhouse and Hong Kong action flick conventions, so in that sense it's hard to critique. But the problem with Hollywood's ongoing (and inexplicable to some) obsession with '70s exploitation cinema is that the charm of all those cheapo drive-in classics was that they were rough around the edges and fueled by a subversive, anti-establishment kick. By comparison, 'Replacement Killers' feels too slick and too safe, with its Hong Kong-derived action overtly derivative rather than barrier-breaking. The film isn't about anything at all except its hard-boiled cliches, which makes for an entertaining enough pastiche, but ultimately one that's utterly forgettable.
Since the characters have about as much depth as a videogame, it's up to Yun-Fat and Sorvino to keep us interested solely on attitude. They certainly put up a valiant fight -- although Yun-Fat's limited command of English can be a handicap, he knows how to elevate pulp into Shakespeare, while Oscar-winner Sorvino (clearly slumming) at least tears into all the f-word-laden gutter talk with relish. Together, they have good chemistry, and they may just be the only thing that's memorable about 'The Replacement Killers.'
Still, ultimately a flick like this only exists to wow us with its ultra-violence and gunplay, and on that level 'The Replacement Killers' certainly delivers, even if it can't compare to a truly seminal landmark like 'The Matrix' (which matched its revolutionary effects with a resonant mythology and equally memorable characters). If you're in the mood for a mild diversion, this one's worth a rent, just don't expect a drive-in classic.
(Note that Sony presents the film in its 98-minute Unrated Extended Edition form here, sporting about 8 extra minutes of mostly violent footage.)
While some may find the source to be a bit grainy (all the better to give that drive-in movie feel), this is otherwise a very clean 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer.
'Killers' is about a decade old now, but it really doesn't show its age very much, with deep blacks, bright contrast, and electric hues that hold firm throughout. Detail and depth are also much better than I expected, and I spotted no major compression artifacts.
Alas, this is not a perfect transfer. I did find the image a bit too edgy -- there are some very slight halos visible, and it's all just a bit too sharp. I also saw some slight noise, mostly on areas of vivid color. Still, all things considered, 'Replacement Killers' looks impressively good in its high-def debut.
'The Replacement Killers' certainly doesn't lack bombast. Ratcheting the audio up a notch over the film's previous standard-def DVD releases, Sony serves up a very nice uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-hit/4.6mbps)for this Blu-ray edition.
The surrounds are quite active. Nary a scene goes by that doesn't feature whizzing bullets, thumping bass and pounding techno music. Imaging and overall presence in the rears hold up quite well for a ten year-old flick, with only the quieter dialogue scenes disappointing with next to no subtle ambiance.
Dynamics are also generally strong, with solid bass reproduction and well-balanced dialogue. Although I personally found the high-end a bit too bright, with all the clanging metal and loud gunfire quickly growing tiresome, overall Sony has delivered yet another very strong mix.
'Replacement Killers' has been released on standard-def DVD several times (both in theatrical and extended versions), but unfortunately none were particularly feature-packed, leaving Sony with little to draw from for this new Blu-ray edition.
What we do get are a couple of cheesy featurettes. First up is "The Making of 'The Replacement Killers.'" Your typical 10-minute extended commercial, this one intercuts a series of film clips with dated interviews with director Antoine Fuqua and stars Chow Yun-Fat and Mira Sorvino that never scratch beyond the surface. "Chow Yun-Fat Goes Hollywood" is a bit meatier at 20 minutes long, but is even more shameless in the endless hosannas bestowed upon the actor. In addition to his fellow cast and crew, past collaborators including director James Foley and John Woo chime in, along with such "experts" as (I kid you not) video store clerks, who say things like, "Chow Yun-Fat is, like, the man!" Really, it doesn't get much worse than this.
Alas, there's no theatrical trailer for 'Replacement Killers' included, and both featurettes are presented in measly 4:3 full screen 480i/MPEG-2 video.
'The Replacement Killers' certainly packs enough adrenaline for ten other action flicks, but at the end of the day, I found it to be all style and no substance. As a Blu-ray release, this disc offers a substantial enough upgrade in video and audio to make it worth a rent if you're in the mood for a silly, brainless action flick -- just don't expect much more.