Hollywood has long been criticized for remaking foreign films into “Americanized” productions like The Ring and Cold Pursuit. But they’re far from the only ones to do it. For example Too Cool to Kill, (Zhe ge sha shou bu tai leng jing, 这个杀手不太冷静), it’s a Chinese remake of a Japanese film, The Magic Hour, from 2008.
Ill-tempered mobster Mr. Harvey (Minghao Chen, Fire on the Plain) barely survived an attempt on his life by the hitman known only as Karl. He’s willing to make him a counteroffer if he had a way of contacting him. He’s also financing a film by Miller (Lun Ai, Vanguard, Another Me) despite his track record of making flops. The idea was to get with Miller’s actress sister Milan (Li Ma, Iron Mask, Never Say Die) but she’s repeatedly turned him down. So he decides to shut the production, and the sibling themselves, down. Seeing an opportunity, Milan claims to know Karl and offers to introduce them.
Of course, she doesn’t know him. But she does know Wei Chenggong (Wei Xiang, The One, Pegasus) an aspiring actor who’s just dumb enough that she can convince him he’s being cast in a fully improvised gangster film as a hitman named Karl.
Too Cool to Killis part comedy about filmmaking and part love letter to it. The films that get referenced are both numerous and incredibly varied. Singing in the Rain, El Mariachi and its sequels, Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars, gangster films both of the John Woo/Hong Kong style and The Godfather and its sequels and imitators, the list goes on and on. And the way they’re paid homage to is just as varied, a line of dialogue here, a poster on the wall there, a character’s look or wardrobe. It’s almost like a hidden object puzzle for film geeks.
Comedy can be hard to transfer from one culture to another, and I was worried that going from Japan to China and then to English subtitles would take much of the humour out of Too Cool to Kill. Thankfully writer/director Xing Wenxiong focuses on situations that are universally funny and plenty of visual and physical gags. Wei Xiang carries much of the film with his gift for this style of humour, making it funny without resorting to overdone slapstick. He also manages to pull off the difficult task of looking like a genuinely bad actor rather than a good actor trying to give a poor performance.
The film also benefits from the excellent production design. It looks like an old-time Hollywood film, shot on soundstages and studio backlots. The presence of vintage cameras and lights adds to the feel. Even sequences with the characters in cars have the backgrounds added in. Too Cool to Kill’s final scene is the logical conclusion of this, as the elements of the shot are stripped away revealing the reality behind what we just saw. Then it transitions into a string of behind-the-scenes clips accompanying the end credits.
At an hour and forty-nine minutes, it does run a bit too long and start to lose its focus towards the end, Too Cool to Kill does provide a lot of laughs and a treat for the eyes. Film buffs will also have fun spotting all the references scattered through it. I’d say make a drinking game out of it, but you would end up too drunk to enjoy the movie itself.
Well Go USA will release Too Cool to Kill to theatres in the US and Canada on February 18th. Blu-ray, DVD and VOD release dates haven’t been announced yet. You can check Well Go’s website for a list of theatres and updates on the film’s home video release.