Hitman (1998)

November 17, 2003 • Film, Reviews

[director Stephen Tung-Wai]
Cast: Jet Li Lian-Jie, Eric Tsang Chi-Wai, Simon YamTat-Wah

This film is very small and quiet for a Jet Li production, and that’s a big part of its charm. For in giving up the big-budget trappings of movies like My Father is a Hero, Jet seems to be freed up to focus on some acting. It’s something Jet has hardly done before, and he turns out to be half decent at it.

Jet plays a country bumpkin, trying to take advantage of an open contract for killers so that he can help his mom immigrate to Hong Kong. He is taken under the wing of a wily, stumblebum confidence man, played by Eric Tsang, who trains him to be a professional killer. Tsang’s performance is about a third of this movie, Jet’s is another third. They both acquit themselves well for such an action-oriented film.
The third part of the film is the plot, which is quite winding and cleverly mounted. A Japanese businessman is murdered by a vigilante avenger called the “Killing Angel.” But the crooked businessman had a contract out with a provision for just such an occasion: if ever he was killed, he opened the field to all hitmen willing to find out who killed him and to gain revenge for him. He makes this possible by offering 10 million dollars or so for the perpetrator.

This sets the field for a number of crazy villains, vicious killers all with their own unique styles, and also for some clever little martial arts sequences. Because, as it turns out, neither Jet nor Eric Tsang have it in them to really kill. So a good deal of the time they are trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the Killing Angel. This deadly game requires them to be a step ahead of the psychotic killers and a step behind the leader of the pack, who happens to be the grandson of the businessman (a lunatic who drinks his grandfather’s ashes and other nasty stuff). The scene where Jet and Eric try to save a suspect from the killers is one of the most interesting martial arts sequences to be filmed since Jet and Sibelle Hu were running across the heads of their audience-members while dueling in Fong Sai-Yuk.

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