The Replacement Killers

The Replacement Killers Information

The Replacement Killers is a 1998 American action film, directed by Antoine Fuqua in his directorial debut. The storyline was conceived from a screenplay written by Ken Sanzel. Veteran martial arts director John Woo co-produced and choreographed the action sequences. The film is set in modern day Los Angeles and follows an emotionally disillusioned assassin played by actor Chow Yun-fat, who is forced to settle a violent vendetta against a ruthless crime boss. The ensemble cast also features Mira Sorvino, Michael Rooker, Kenneth Tsang, Jürgen Prochnow, Til Schweiger and Danny Trejo. The film marks the American acting debut for Yun-fat, as his previous film credits included Hong Kong action cinema only.

The film was a co-production between the motion picture studios of Columbia Pictures, Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, and WCG Entertainment Productions. Theatrically, it was commercially distributed by Columbia Pictures, while the Sony Pictures Entertainment division released the film in the video rental market. The Replacement Killers explores assassination, violence and the influence of triads in modern society. Following its wide release in theaters, the film failed to garner any award nominations for its editing merits or cinematography. The film score was orchestrated by Harry Gregson-Williams; the soundtrack was released by the Varèse Sarabande music label on March 10, 1998.

The Replacement Killers premiered in theaters nationwide in the United States on February 6, 1998 grossing $19,204,929 in domestic ticket receipts. The film was screened at 1,936 theaters during its widest release in cinemas. Taking into account its $30 million budget costs, the film was considered a disappointing box office flop. The film's critical response didn't fare better either. Preceding its initial screening to the public, it was generally met with mixed to negative reviews. With its initial foray into the home media marketplace; the widescreen DVD edition of the film featuring scene selections, a featurette, and interviews among other highlights was released in the United States on July 1, 1998.


During an orchestrated drug bust at a marine loading dock, New York cop Stan Zedkov (Michael Rooker) kills Triad lieutenant Peter Wei (Yau-Gene Chan). Looking to exact revenge for his son's death, crime boss Terence Wei (Kenneth Tsang), sends for trained assassin John Lee (Chow Yun-fat). Paying off on an old debt, Lee has already killed two targets for Wei, and the crime boss tells him that this third and final job will wipe out the remainder of his obligation. However, Lee's conscience prevents him from completing his final assignment: to murder Zedkov's seven year-old son Stevie (Andrew J. Marton) before the detective's eyes. Realizing that his actions will result in retaliation against his mother and sister, Lee prepares to return to China, enlisting the help of old friend Alan Chan, a monk in a local Buddhist temple, to make arrangements to have his family moved to a secure location. Infuriated by Lee's disobedience, Wei orders his men to hunt for him and has his men in China begin the search for Lee's family. Wei also hires replacement killers to finish the original job of killing Zedkov's son.

No longer able to use the Triad network to get out of the country, Lee searches for alternative means outside Wei's sphere of influence, and meets with skilled forger Meg Coburn (Mira Sorvino) to have her create for him a new passport. Before she can finish the job, Wei's men storm her apartment, destroying the computerized tools of her trade in the ensuing shootout. Having been made aware that the Triads are involved, Coburn wants out, but Lee forces her to finish her original task of creating a forged passport. Getting pictures from a photo booth, Lee phones Alan, who offers the use of his passport. When Lee arrives at the temple, he discovers that Alan has been tortured to the point of death. Alan tells Lee that his family was moved to Canton--but he told his torturers they were in Shanghai. Lee has little more than 24 hours before his family is found. The monk gives Lee his passport before dying in his arms.

Coburn later concludes the procedure of forging a passport for Lee. Feeling compelled to stop the killing of Zedkov's son before leaving the country, Lee forces one of Wei's informers to reveal the plan, which is to kill Stevie while he and his father are at a cartoon festival in a movie theater. Lee and Coburn arrive barely in time to prevent contract killers Ryker (Til Schweiger) and Collins (Danny Trejo) from killing the boy, and Ryker is killed in the subsequent gunfight. Concerned that Lee and Coburn will make their way back to Wei's base of operations, the crime boss makes plans to flee the country and hunt down Lee's mother and sister himself. However, when two guards open the main gate for Wei and his entourage leave in an SUV, Lee stands ready, firing handguns in different directions killing many Triad soldiers. Coburn surfaces moments later driving a truck through the melee, incapacitating Lee's head consort Michael Kogan (Jürgen Prochnow), and later killing him. When Collins fires from a high perch on Lee and Coburn, Lee soon outflanks him, killing him from behind. Finally, Lee corners Wei on a fire escape platform. Though both men have emptied their guns, Lee is first to reload. Wei promises Lee that the boy and Lee's family will still die, but Lee replies, "Not in your lifetime," and kills him. Though Zedkov arrives before Lee and Coburn can get away, he lets them go, taking only their guns. Coburn reluctantly bids goodbye to Lee at the airport, presenting him with one last gift, passports for his mother and sister.


Chow Yun-fat as John Lee
Mira Sorvino as Meg Coburn
Michael Rooker as Stan 'Zeedo' Zedkov
Kenneth Tsang as Terence Wei
Jürgen Prochnow as Michael Kogan
Til Schweiger as Ryker
Danny Trejo as Collins
Clifton Collins Jr. as Loco
Carlos Gómez as Hunt
Frank Medrano as Rawlins



Production for the film project began on February 10, 1997 in downtown Los Angeles. The first shoot was at the historic Mayan Theater, refurbished into the trendy nightclub for the film's stylish opening scene with hundreds of extras, as the character Lee guns down Romero (Carlos Leon) at close range. The eight-story, nearly condemned Giant Penny building in the middle of Los Angeles served as locations for a police station interior, a hotel room, and Meg Coburn's office. A chaotic gunfight was filmed amid the spray, brushes, and hoses of Joe's Car Wash in Los Angeles as well. The art department transformed one area into a Chinatown-like streetscape of damp, narrow alleys, and blinking red neon lights, site of a night filming where Yun-Fat shot off 546 rounds with two guns, one in each hand, while the repetitive action left his hands blistered and shaking. More gunplay was at a video arcade replicated at the original Lawry's California Center (now the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens operated by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy), just north of downtown Los Angeles. Lee's tranquil Buddhist temple was fashioned under this same roof too.

Director Fuqua stressed to his team that the aim was to design a "Taxi Driver for the 1990s,". In addition to physical training, Mira Sorvino, who had never handled a gun prior to this film, took weapons training to prepare for her role. Sorvino majored in Asian studies at Harvard, speaks Mandarin, and lived for eight months (1988-89) in Beijing, where she studied Chinese, taught English, and saw Chinese films, including Hong Kong action films. She felt The Replacement Killers brought her a step closer to her goal of making a film in Mandarin and working with a Chinese director. Sorvino had blown out her voice doing reshoots of Mimic where she was screaming prior to starting filming; Fuqua had liked the effect and asked her to keep it, which required Sorvino to yell prior to each day's shoots to burn out her voice.


The original motion picture score was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams. Alan Meyerson mixed the sound elements for the chorus, while Richard Whitfield edited the film's music. The soundtrack for the film was released on March 10, 1998 by the Varèse Sarabande music label.


Home media

Following its cinematic release in theaters, the Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment in the United States on July 1, 1998. Special features for the DVD include, scene selections and the featurette specials; Chow Yun-Fat Goes Hollywood along wth an edited HBO special: "Where the Action is". On March 5, 2002, a Special Edition DVD was released. DVD features included, a digitally mastered audio & anamorphic video; Widescreen presentation; Audio: English 5.1 (Dolby Digital), Spanish, French, Portuguese; Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai; Director's commentary; HBO Making-of: "Where the Action Is"; Deleted scenes; Alternate ending; Exclusive featurette: "Chow Yun-Fat Goes Hollywood"; Theatrical trailers; Filmographies; Animated menus; and Scene selections with motion images. An extended-cut DVD was released on April 25, 2006. Special features for that DVD included; Chow Yun-Fat Goes Hollywood, an all-new extended cut including over 10 extra minutes added back into the film, a digitally remastered quality picture and sound, and an Edited HBO Special: "Where the Action Is". Another media format made available for release was the VHS version on March 30, 1999.

The widescreen hi-definition Blu-ray Disc version of the film was released on September 11, 2007. Special features include; The Making of the Replacement Killers: "Where the Action is"; and the Exclusive Featurette: "Chow Yun-Fat Goes Hollywood". A UMD version of the film for the Sony PlayStation Portable was released on August 9, 2005. The disc features DVD quality picture; languages in: Chinese, English, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai, with viewing options in Color and Black and White. A supplemental viewing option for the film in the media format of Video on demand is available as well.


Critical response

Among mainstream critics in the U.S., the film received mostly negative reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 38% of 32 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 5.4 out of 10. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics' reviews, the film received a score of 42 based on 22 reviews. Following its cinematic release in 1998, The Replacement Killers failed to amass any award nominations for its production attributes.

"What I liked about the film was its simplicity of form and its richness of visuals. There's a certain impersonality about the story; Chow and Sorvino don't have long chats between the gunfire. They're in a ballet of Hong Kong action imagery: bodies rolling out of gunshot range, faces frozen in fear, guys toppling off fire escapes, grim lips, the fetishism of firearms, cars shot to pieces, cops that make Dragnet sound talky."
"?Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times
Among some of the positive critique, Roger Ebert writing in the Chicago Sun-Times called it "as abstract as a jazz instrumental, and as cool and self-assured." Discussing the film's style, he remarked that it was a "high-gloss version of a Hong Kong action picture, made in America but observing the exuberance of a genre where surfaces are everything." In Variety, Leonard Klady viewed the film was as being a "big, loud music video that's not particularly interested in content. It's a rudderless style piece; as the old saw cautions, accept no substitutes." Regarding the film's set design and production qualities, he noted that "While an apt homage, the set pieces here are technical but not visceral, feeling manufactured rather than organically integrated into the plot."

Russell Smith of The Austin Chronicle said the film was "so numbingly ritualistic that even the well-choreographed gun battles, probably the most Woo-like aspects of the film, lose much of their potential impact." Writing for The New York Times, Stephen Holden called the film a "seamless fusion of Hong Kong action-adventure style and cool, Los Angeles street chic has a certain seductive charm, it is the only charm of a movie that is otherwise devoid of content." Edward Guthmann in the San Francisco Chronicle said that "As pointless blast-athons go, "The Replacement Killers" isn't bad. It's beautifully shot by first-time feature director Antoine Fuqua, whose eye for sensual surfaces, deft camera moves and elegant framing was refined with commercials and music videos."

Desson Thomson of The Washington Post stated that "Without Chow Yun-Fat, who makes his American screen debut here, there'd be nothing to say about "The Replacement Killers." Antoine Fuqua's action movie is entirely free of surprise. It breaks no rules." He did however muse that "Chow's pretty face and cool presence are inescapable. You don't enjoy this movie, so much as you conduct a road test for the Hong Kong actor. Yes, he can survive in an English language picture!" In The San Francisco Examiner, Walter Addiego perceived that the film "remains a counterfeit of a Woo movie, even though Woo himself co-produced it. He turned the directing chores over to first-timer Antoine Fuqua, whose previous work was limited to music videos and commercials, and it shows." He added, "The script, by Ken Sanzel, is the work of someone who's seen Woo's movies and wasn't particularly moved by the experience."

Box office

The Replacement Killers premiered in cinemas on February 6, 1998 in wide release throughout the U.S.. During its opening weekend, the film opened in second place grossing $8,046,553 in business showing at 1,936 locations. The film, Titanic came in first place during that weekend grossing $23,027,838. Its revenue dropped by 49% in its second week of release, earning $4,068,335. For that particular weekend, the film fell to sixth place still screening in 1,936 theaters. Titanic, remained in first place grossing $28,167,947 in box office revenue. During its final week in release, The Replacement Killers opened in a distant 21st place with $131,727 in revenue. The film went on to top out domestically at $19,204,929 in total ticket sales through a 5-week theatrical run. For 1998 as a whole, the film would cumulatively rank at a box office performance position of 90.

See also

  • 1998 in film
  • Triad

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