[box cover]

Contract Killer

Jet Li, the martial arts star of the Hong Kong masterwork Once Upon A Time In China (I, II and III) and American pictures Romeo Must Die, Kiss of the Dragon, and The One, is a martial artist whose kind face and humble delivery deserve a little more bad-ass-atude. He's not funny like Jackie Chan and he's not as cool as the late Bruce Lee, but he's got enough mystery (others would call it flat acting) to become something more iconic. He just hasn't yet. Contract Killer won't help him along the way. But it won't hurt him either, which has been Li's career of late — amazing sequences of the handsome athlete kicking ass met with so-so movies that don't rev his motor up as they should. Tung Wai's 1998 Contract Killer (also known as Hitman) has been revamped to (supposedly) add some spice to the HK version, but it all feels very forced. New titles, dubbed in English, and a new score with way too much generic rap music, the film was Li's last in Hong Kong before he got his American break in Lethal Weapon 4. Li plays Fu, a shy, lonely hitman who comes across the kooky big talker Norman Lu (Eric Tsuang) while looking for work. Through Norman, he gets in on a deal where a $100 million reward is offered for the capture of the assassin responsible for icing a rich businessman, Mr. Tsukamoto. Getting an arsenal of not only weapons but sharp Armani suits as well, Norman and Fu set out to earn the money at a percentage, but things go a bit differently. Fu's not one to kill easily — in fact, he saves his first victim. And things get complicated (as they so often do in movies like these, where things are so simple you actually get confused). Fu is mistaken for Tsukamoto, and the assassin has to not only find the real killer but also keep from getting killed. There's also the police officer, Lt. Chan (Simon Yam), lurking about, and grandson Eiji Tsukamoto (Keiji Sato) has his own vengeful agenda. Starting off with a dry sense of humor, Contract Killer looks promising until it begins to drag midway. But this is a minor quibble, particularly when comparing the picture to most American action films. After a little tedium, the film picks up and presents us with some exceptional action sequences, including a great John Woo-like gun-battle (it seems almost a parody), and of course Li's martial artistry. But we just wish more would be built around Li. He's working the lone, laconic angle, and that's good for him, but for this film to be more successful he should have been weirder (like say Leon). Li needs to be given more meat to his movies. He's ready for it, he's definite leading-man material (just don't team him with Bridget Fonda again), and he's primed to burst out of his nice persona. Call us evil, but we want Li to make a movie that's not only exceptional, but one that presents him as totally amoral. True Jet Li fans are salivating to see this. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of Contract Killer presents a crisp, clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), which is a must for action sequences in which people are jumping and sliding across slick floors while bullets spray through people and glass. The dubbed English audio comes both Dolby Digital 5.1. and Dolby 2.0 Surround. Supplements include English and Spanish subtitles, the film's original trailer, bonus Jet Li trailers, and a photo gallery. Keep-case.
—Kim Morgan

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