Blood Has Not Yet Gone Cold

That was the Hong Kong title for The Replacement Killers. I like it better because not only does it represent the notion of someone getting shot who is still alive, but it’s a tactful way of saying that someone has yet to have a cold-blooded mentality. There has never been a DVD or Blu-ray release which has an audio commentary or even an extensive featurette about the making of this box office blip. This is the cover story of the first issue from a rare magazine that bore the name Thunder (which should’ve been named Storm as it sounds stronger).

This is the complete story of why the movie is what is it, and not what it should or could have been. Before the movie was offered to Chow Yun-Fat, he was given several scripts which he turned down because they covered familiar ground in the world of organized crime. Previously, he played more gangsters than hitmen; so that why explains why he agreed to act in The Replacement Killers. His handlers were looking for an ironic hero in an action-packed movie.

Chow winced at the alternative: “In television, I was holding the girl and talking about love. Now I’m holding two guns and talking about violence. My character has to be a decent guy. I insist on no vocal profanity in my films, because I’m so admired like the stars in your Hollywood movies from the `50s. We need to educate our younger generation, so I tell my agent and my manager that the must must not have any vulgarity. I don’t like the bad guys who used the F-word all of the time.”

There was some red tape that needed to be tended to. H.K. was an easier place to make action movies because there was no legislation barring people from doing anything. If you were crafty enough, you could get away with filming without permits. A child actress could be dangling by a fake arm attached to the inside of an car (as was the case with a 1990 action movie titled Fatal Termination) and you wouldn’t need to worry about unions complaining about child abuse.

Antoine Fuqua required (instead of requested) his leading man to undergo firearm training. Chow said: “The director wanted me to feel the ammunition, so I went to the shooting range every day during pre-production. I never had the chance for such intense preparation in Hong Kong, so the experience was a real pleasure.”

This training would still have happened had he not rejected the chance to play the role that the dreadlocked guy played in Alien: Resurrection. Like what happened with the first Alien, Mira Sorvino’s character in The Replacement Killers was originally written to be played by a man. Changing genders meant that there was room for interpretation on the lines of sexism and sexual tension. Mira was his translator, although she knows more Mandarin than he does (since he is a native Cantonese speaker as can be heard by the many films where he dubs his own voice).

Despite his action movie status, Chow (unlike Jackie Chan working with Michelle Yeoh in Super Cop) didn’t seem to be embarrassingly upstaged by what this change represented: “More or less, she acts like a tough guy. How can a killer have a romance with a tough guy? Not in this movie.”

Ken Sanzel (the writer) elaborates on the movie’s strength: “Chow essentially created his character’s history and motivation. He always made me come to the table thinking and finding ways to make his ideas work and enhance the movie. His ideas were always about the movie, not just his character. Learning his patterns of speech and his sense of humour really helped to shape Chow’s character. There’s a way that he winks or smiles that you just get. He was really easy to write for, to be honest. He makes this movie special. He’s really what distinguishes it. He gets more out of three words than a lot of actors get out of three sentences.”

Ken was a military policeman and a New York City policeman for 10 years. He was wounded once and won a Distinguished Duty medal. In 1995, he left the police force to become a full-time writer. His first prominent script was a short-lived TV series titled Lawless, starring Brian Bosworth. In 1998, he wrote the script for an American remake of a Chow Yun-Fat movie titled Full Contact. New Line Cinema was meant to be producing it, but it fell through the cracks and languished in development Hell. I suspect that the reason was because there was already a remake of Point Blank (titled Payback) in the works. Ken came up with the story of The Replacement Killers by simply having an idea about a scene and writing a movie based on it.

Ken explains the idea that was originally supposed to be the leading scene for what would’ve been a dark comedy: “A hit man walks into a forger’s office in Times Square saying I need to get out of town. Two guys with guns show up, so the hit man and forger end up on the run. It wasn’t intended to be like a Hong Kong movie. The tone of the script was initially more light-hearted. It had the same level of action as the finished product but not as melodramatic. No movie exists in a vacuum. It’s much more Antoine’s movie than mine. It became his vision. I really wasn’t involved; I visited the set once. I believe that at two different times they brought two people on for rewrites. They kept on coming back, giving me the stuff that had been rewritten, asking me to put it all back together again.”

Arianne Phillips was the costume designer (she is eight years younger than Chow): “I did an initial fitting with Yun-Fat. He was very patient and generous with his time. We tried a lot of things on so I could get a feel for his silhouette. We paid attention to colour. This film is lit in a very moody way; so there had to be a lot of communication between the cinematographer, the production designer, the director and myself. I’d like to take all the credit, but the thing about the star is that he innately has the presence to make it all work! I am a big fan of him. You have no idea! I love him so much, and Jasmine – his wife! Put me on record: they are the most elegant, kind, generous and fun people who I have ever worked with. I don’t have enough amazing things to say about these people, and I’m a jaded, cynical b!tch.”

Allan Graf (the stunt coordinator and second unit director), who worked with Tsui Hark on a Hollywood movie titled Double Team, acknowledges the H.K. influence: “I watched all those movies when I did Broken Arrow because I wanted to know about John Woo. Those are well over the top and they’re great, but you’ve got to have a fine line. With Chow, we were trying to say – This is his first U.S. movie. We wanted people to believe in him, so let’s keep it contained yet make it exciting enough that we get that other audience. We didn’t want to copy so much from the Hong Kong films, since the American audience doesn’t know him. We wanted to save it for the end, to kind of say – Okay, let’s show them what we can do. That spinning and shooting all those guys…it’s Chow Yun-Fat at his best. He is a master. The double-handed guns and spins are his signature.”

The H.K. release was cut short two weeks earlier than expected. This must have come as a surprise considering that John Woo (taking a break from Blackjack during this time) acted as a babysitter for Antoine in the editing room. I wonder how Antoine felt about being babysitted. It may not have been his idea. A producer may have felt that Antoine was in over his head, so decided that Chow would look better if the most prolific partner of his blood-splattered past was hired to babysit a first-time director. The irony is that the movie would’ve been a big hit if they stuck with the initial casting of Bruce Willis and Linda Fiorentino (those were the people that Ken had in mind when he was writing the screenplay).

If Chow is the strength then Antoine was the weakness, since Woo should have chosen to direct this instead of Blackjack. Allan explains why he met Antoine: “I was brought in by Jim Dyer, with whom I had worked with on Another 48 Hours and Red Heat. He was the production manager. He thought our personalities would work together. I wasn’t set in my ways, so I was very open to anything that Antoine wanted on. Therein lies the kicker, he comes from a commercial background. This means that he thought he could do certain things that could not be done. I was there to make things right. There was some conflict, but he appreciated the stuff which I was doing most of the time. At least, I hope he did. I hope we pulled it off.”

With the advent of CGI at the time, the future of stunt coordinators might be helped or hindered: “In helping us to do bigger, hairiest stunts and making them safer, it’s been great. At some point in the future, they’re going to do less with humans and more with computers. I think it’s going to be a big mistake. Once you lose the human element, you lose the audience.”

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