So, you're really a hitman. Does that pay well?
Yeah... I make a killing.
Kirk Wong is the latest Hong Kong director to hit these shores, and unlike other Hong Kong directors that came before him (John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Tsui Hark), he is not being saddled with a Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle for his North American debut. Prior to his first stateside gig, Wong had been a player in the Hong Kong film industry for over sixteen years, well-known for his many forays into the true crime genre. With the help of a stable of former cops-turned-writers, Wong dramatized the real-life work of Hong Kong police, starting with the cult-favorite "Organized Crime and Triad Bureau", which portrayed the members of Hong Kong's elite force as ruthless as the criminals they pursued. His other notable directorial efforts included Jackie Chan's "Crime Story", which suffered from extensive meddling by Chan, and "Rock 'n Roll Cop", a movie that had the dubious distinction of encouraging mainland Chinese cops to dress up in suits and ties instead of blue jeans. Now, in 1998, with the help of "Face/Off" director John Woo, it looks as though Wong is off to a promising new career with "The Big Hit".
And what's up with you guys? Are you supposed to be the Spice Boys?
Maalox-downing Melvin Smiley (Mark Wahlberg of "Boogie Nights") is a nice guy that happens to be in deep money problems, the product of his relationships with Chantel (Lela Rochon), his two-timing mistress who's robbing him blind, and Pam (Christina Applegate of "Married with Children"), his spendthrift Jewish American Princess fiancée. Oh yeah, Melvin happens to be a contract killer, though he is a very polite one. In need of some quick cash, he hooks up with his compatriot Cisco (Lou Diamond Phillips, in his best role since "Courage Under Fire"), who has cooked up a scheme to kidnap Keiko Nishi (newcomer China Chow), the daughter of a wealthy Japanese industrialist. However, unknown to Cisco, Keiko happens to also be the goddaughter of an underworld heavy-hitter named Paris (Avery Brooks of "Deep Space Nine", deliciously playing against type)... who happens to be Melvin's and Cisco's boss. And even worse, Cisco has been consistently undermining Melvin, cheating him out of his hard-earned bonuses, and ducking out of firefights, leaving Melvin to fend for himself. This comedy of errors continues to spin out of control when Paris, angered by the abduction of his goddaughter, puts Cisco in charge of finding and 'busting the caps' of the individuals responsible for the kidnapping. Of course, Melvin, who is in charge of watching the abductee, becomes the fall guy. And it couldn't come at a worse time either-- Pam's parents are visiting from out of town, Chantel is about to run off with all his money, and the local video store is constantly phoning him, demanding the return of the long-overdue "King Kong Lives". As the hapless Melvin tries to keep all these balls in the air, the various threads of his life converge, resulting in one very messy knot.
What's this doing to your parents?
Actually, they're dead.
You see! You see!
Mom, they were dead before we even met!
"The Big Hit" is a breezy piece of Hong Kong-style action--heroic bloodshed-lite. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from this movie, as the trailers called to mind an unoriginal concoction of "Grosse Point Blank" and "Excess Baggage". Furthermore, even though John Woo merely acted as executive producer, his previous efforts that mixed comedy and action fell short. Both the original incarnation, and the recent remake-turned-television-series of "Once a Thief" fell flat in both the action and comedy departments, resulting in unsatisfying messes. However, "The Big Hit" manages to outdo itself in both departments.
I said it should have lanolin in it... not some aloe vera bullshit!
On the action side, the movie is relished with the trademark acrobatic displays of gunplay associated with John Woo, and the visceral energy is further augmented by Wong's traditional hyper-reality directing style, with its extensive freehand camera-work and quick cuts (the type of cinematography you would see on "Homicide: Life on the Street")-- moviegoers expecting kinetic visuals and outlandish action sequences will not go home empty-handed. On the comedy side, the movie has a mean streak of subversive black humor, playing up on the foibles of inept felons. One of the reasons why this movie works so well is that it is populated with so many farcical characters, each imbibed their own unique comic perspective on the world around them. Melvin is polite and caring to a fault, Cisco is always hatching nefarious schemes, Keiko is brimming with 'tude, the video store clerk only cares about getting his overdue movie back, Pam's mother only cares about keeping her family line kosher, and so on. Throw all these personalities into an extreme situation, and you have one very entertaining movie!