Director: Clarence Ford
Producer: Wong Jing
Writer: Wong Jing
Cast: Sunny Chan Kam Hung, Kathy Chow Hoi Mei, Alex Fong Chung Sun, Henry Fong Ping, Stephen Fung Tak Lun, Lilian Ho Ka Lei, Ku Feng, Michael Ian Lambert
Running Time: 94 min.
By Raging Caijin
“Cheap Killers” springs forth, guns blazing, from the twisted imagination of writer/producer Wong Jing. It’s a sweaty ode to machismo and bullets that at times plays out like “Happy Together” with guns. Fortunately, whenever any of Wong Jing’s excesses threaten to sink the entire endeavor, some solid performances and the stylish direction of Clarence Fok are there to redeem the picture. If you can handle the blatant homoeroticism that simmers just below the movie’s surface, then you may enjoy “Cheap Killers” for the stunning return to HK cinema’s glory days that it is. That’s right: this is a genuine ‘heroic bloodshed’ flick and one of the best in years.
The story follows Sam Cool and Yat-Tiu, two of the most successful hitmen in all of Hong Kong. They’ve got the house, the cars, and the women. Well, only Yat-Tiu is into the women but we’ll get to that later. Of course, his penchant for the ladies gets both men into a lot of trouble. Yat-Tiu falls for a femme fatale and it ends up his undoing; betrayed and left for dead, the two men have little choice but to pick up the pieces of their broken lives…and plot their revenge. And you can bet it’s going to be a sweet, bloody revenge.
This is all pretty standard HK action stuff, but what separates “Cheap Killers” from other movies of its kind is the relationship between the two lead characters. When you first load up the DVD and see the menu with both actors dressed in flowing white clothes, shirts open to expose their chiseled abs, looking like two male models – it is merely a hint of what is to come. To put it simply, Sam Cool and Yat-Tiu are close. Very close. The nature of their relationship is ultimately left ambiguous by the filmmakers, but be prepared for many scenes where the two men hold each other in their arms and cry together. And watch out for that scene where Sam Cool bathes Yat-Tiu. But don’t worry; there is good reason for these moments: something happens to Yat-Tiu and Sam Cool must take on an almost paternal role for his friend. To me, these scenes imbue the movie with more emotion than your average triad flick – or at least, as much real emotion as a Wong Jing movie can have.
There are strong themes of brotherhood and loyalty at play here. It’s unfortunate that Wong Jing has to ruin it by making the female characters either manipulative or weak. He seems to be saying “all men are brothers” and “all women are bitches”. Thus, it’s not surprising that some parts of this movie resonate and others do not. At one point, a character even says “Never trust a woman” without a hint of irony. While I wish Wong Jing had reigned in his misogyny a bit, I must say that in this case the woman-bashing helps make “Cheap Killers” even more a guilty pleasure. This is a trashy movie but the filmmakers know it – hell, it was directed by Clarence “Naked Killer” Fok, after all. It’s best just to sit back and enjoy it, without taking it too seriously.
And if you’re just looking for action, “Cheap Killers” is sure to please. This movie is violent as hell. People are shot, stabbed, cut in half, chopped by shears, impaled with harpoons; others have their eyes cut out or plummet to their death. It’s all delivered with a visual punch from Clarence Fok, who knows this kind of grimy neo-noir like the back of his hand. His kinetic pacing, unique camera angles, and excessive use of slow motion mean that “Cheap Killers” is a feast for the eyes as well; which is good because the eye candy tends to take your mind off of some of the plot holes, implausibility, or sleaze in Wong Jing’s script.
Sunny Chan does a decent job as the womanizing pretty boy Yat-Tiu, but the full depth of his acting talent isn’t realized until half-way through the film. He’s very convincing as someone on the edge of sanity. That said, this movie belongs to Alex Fong. His portrayal of Sam Cool is one of the most complex and fascinating characters out of HK in years. Honestly, an exploitation movie doesn’t deserve a performance this good! He comes across as tough and vulnerable all at the same time; he projects an impossibly macho attitude while still showing tenderness and love to his male friend. He does a consummate job and makes up for Kathy Chow and Henry Fong, who are content to mostly ham things up. They’re not bad performances per se; they’re just more typical of the genre (femme fatale and sleazy gangster) than Alex Fong’s three-dimensional portrayal. Stephen Fung shows up in a supporting role as a nice guy cop. His turn is nothing to write home about but he’s a welcome presence in the movie. His character is an honest beacon of righteousness in a movie otherwise consumed with debauchery and murder.
Overall, if you can’t already tell, I loved “Cheap Killers” . It’s not a good movie at all but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch. It’s a trashy b-movie, an exploitation flick, and tasteless to the extreme. But guess what? They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore. When was the last time you saw a movie where the heroes armed themselves to the teeth to exact their vengeance in a rousing finale of choreographed ultra-violence? While “Cheap Killers” cobbles together elements of “A Better Tomorrow” and “Bullet in the Head” , it stands on its own thanks to the strong chemistry between the two main characters as well as some stylish cinematography…and the fact that there hasn’t been anything like it since the year it came out.
What I love about “Cheap Killers” is summed up entirely by the final shot of the movie. I’m not going to ruin it for you but once you see it, there’s no way you can resist from shouting out “Hell yeah!” It’s just one of those moments that gets your blood pumping and reminds you of the good old days of Hong Kong action. The moment, just like the entire movie, is completely unrealistic, impossibly over-the-top, and stylized to the hilt – and that’s exactly why I love it. I’m not scoring this film higher because it’s admittedly just a guilty pleasure with little artistic merit; and I can’t help but think how much better it would have been if produced by someone like Tsui Hark instead of Wong Jing. But if you’re like me and you have a soft spot for the heroic bloodshed genre, then watch this movie as soon as friggin’ possible.
Raging Caijin’s Rating: 7.5/10