Fulltime Killer

dir. To, Ka-Fai Wai

Opens Fri May 23

Hollywood Theater

Of two hired killers vying for the title of number one assassin, Tok is the reckless one: he's brash, bold, and cocky. During a first date with Chin, an attractive video store clerk (and, coincidentally, his rival's house cleaner), Tok excuses himself from the table. He tells his date that he'll be back in 15 minutes. "I have to go kill someone," he informs her, smirking.

In the next scene, Tok dons a Bill Clinton mask (he's a big fan of the movie Point Break) and strides boldly through downtown Tokyo traffic. Like a matador, he sashays alongside a Mercedes and, with a shotgun, blows away three bodyguards and tortures a corpulent businessman--all while wearing the Clinton mask, with its relentless Southern boy grin. It's an unnerving and titillating scene. He returns exactly 15 minutes later to his date's side.

From one angle, Fulltime Killer is a violent cowboy romp through south Asia. Two top-notch assassins bounce from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong, offing gangsters and undisclosed men in fancy suits. But from another angle, the film is a shy, romantic story about two business men; each wants Chin to fall in love with him, but must also figure out how to balance professional and personal matters. When you're an assassin, apparently it's tricky to be stonehearted one moment and tender the next.

The more serene and calculating of the two killers, "O" struggles most with this dilemma. After cleaning his apartment one evening, Chin leaves a miniature Snoopy on his table. After this, O begins to collect tiny Snoopys--one from each city that he visits for a hit. O gives no other indication about his affections, but he simply leaves the Snoopys out on display; the growing collection is a beautiful flirtation. (In return, Chin, who suspects that O is an assassin, secretly keeps a scrapbook about his travels and murders.)

On the surface, Fulltime Killer is a frenetic video game. But by layering a coy romance on top of a thriller on top of a mystery, it becomes something far more charming and clever, evolving as its own captivating genre.