Stuck between a rock of a crime boss and a hard place of a pine box six feet down in the ground, John Lee’s only option to survive is to do what he does best, shoot himself out. The Replacement Killers, the first movie directed by Antoine Fuqua and the first English language film of actor Chow Yun-Fat, is a tour de force of violence. A mix of guns, shattered glass and dead bodies fill the screen from the first frame to the last. After John Lee refuses an order from a crime boss he is indebted to, he must escape the country before they catch or die trying.
Looking for revenge after a police officer kills his son, Terrance Wei (Kenneth Tsang) sends professional killer John Lee (Chow Yun-Fat) to kill the son of the detective that killed his. John has already killed two people for Wei in order to pay off a debt but the third request, the son of detective Zeedo (Michael Rooker), is too much for John and he refuses to kill the son. Knowing that his choice leaves him in the cross hairs of the crime boss, John Lee sends his family away and visits a document forger to get him a passport to get out of the country and into China. The forger, Meg (Mira Sorvino), is hesitant about letting John in, but she finally relents and begins to make his passport until they are interrupted in the middle by two men at the door with guns. A gun fight ensues ending with Meg being arrested and John sneaking away undetected. The police grill Meg, but she is not talking so they let her go. She goes back to her office to collect some of her things and is met there by John. He informs her that she needs his help to stay alive and he still needs a passport so they are stuck together no matter how she feels about it. John Lee finds out what the crime boss’ plan is and he and Meg go to a movie theater where Zeedo is watching a cartoon marathon with his son to try and prevent the assassination. John and Meg are successful in saving the detective which he repays by letting them escape arrest and giving John safe passage for his family.
The action in The Replacement Killers is constantly coming. There are few moments that the tension isn’t building because of a gun in someone’s hands. The film uses the pistol like swords were used in the time of Kurosawa. From the moment John Lee and Meg meet when he comes to visit for a passport, the bullet count rises exponentially. The duo shoots their way out of all kinds of random locations including Meg’s apartment, a car wash, and a video arcade. The first time director wanted to go big and ended up being quite successful racking up the highest count of bullets fired in cinema history.
Both on screen and off, John and Meg or Chow and Mira have great repoire together. The duo clicks from their first moments together on screen. They shoot their way, side by side, out of Meg’s apartment. John then waits for Meg at her place until the cops finally let her go. John Lee is willing to force his protection on Meg to ensure she is protected. Off screen, the pair relied on each other especially when it came to communication. Given her ability to speak Mandarin, Mira was able to help translate for Chow Yun-Fat as he was still new to speaking English.
Production was never smooth sailing on The Replacement Killers. The studio threatened on numerous occasions to pull the first time director from the project until actor Chow Yun-Fat stepped in on Fuqua’s behalf. The experience seems essential in retrospect in order for the director to hone the skills necessary to direct a studio film. He has since shown his abilities with box office successes like Shooter with Mark Wahlberg and Training Day with Denzel Washington.