Saturday, July 27, 2013
Review: FOUR ASSASSINS (2012; available on Netflix Streaming)
The first person I ever met who extolled the joys of Asian filmmaking -- wayyyy back in the late-1970's -- was my college friend Stanley J. Orzel. He was a senior member of the University Union Cinema Board, worked as a projectionist (often running foreign films for various campus groups), and adored Hong Kong cinema, long before anyone in the US paid attention to anything more than imported chopsocky. Well, after years of racking up creative consulting gigs on films such as HERO, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS and FEARLESS, Stanley J. Orzel makes his writing-directing feature debut with FOUR ASSASSINS, a deceptively simple Hong Kong chamber piece, primarily set in one spacious hotel room and centered around a quartet of professional assassins.
It's late evening in Hong Kong, with top hitman Marcus (Will Yun Lee) in an hotel suite -- alone, but not for long -- with three more killers soon making it a foursome. Ex-girlfriend Cordelia (Mercedes Renard) unexpectedly shows up, accompanied by jittery British prettyboy Chase (Oliver Williams), as well as their superior Eli (Miguel Ferrer), a mentor to both Marcus and Cordelia since they were teens. Eli is pissed at Marcus is in seriously hot water over a Singapore job snafu where one of his targets went missing, and the top bosses want this problem "resolved" (i.e. Marcus' death); but first, they all share a sumptuous room service meal, recall old times (complete with flashbacks to past assignments -- an attack on Eli and his ultimate revenge, an absurd attempt to run over a target with a compact car), as well as Cordelia and Marcus thrashing out old issues. As Marcus' time runs out. the characters' still-raw personal losses are exposed, games are played, and the truth behind Marcus' potentially-deadly plight is divulged. Meanwhile, Chase simply acts like a dick.
Originally entitled FAR AWAY EYES, that was probably a better fit for this type of introspective piece, instead of saddling it with a generic moniker (not to mention, a poster with handguns pointing in every direction) that promises balls-out B-movie action. Orzel instead delivers a stylishly-shot, slow-burn character study, punctuated with bursts of gunplay and bloodshed. Lee (currently co-starring in THE WOLVERINE) gives the story a beautifully melancholy foundation, while Ferrer plays a more nuanced version of the authoritative shitheads that's become his specialty -- but also has an opportunity to do some of his best acting in years. The rest of the cast is regrettably hit-and-miss though. Renard is pretty yet generic, and supposedly-ruthless Williams ends up unrelentingly hammy (quick, someone get him a Steven Seagal movie, stat!). By focusing on these damaged, destructive characters and their past ties, Orzel manages to build suspense and intrigue even when his leads merely sit around this palatial suite, gabbing to each other, with moments of unexpected humor also weaved throughout, as well as savvy use of the 1940's tune "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)." It's a gorgeously lensed, uniquely structured debut. Meanwhile, Orzel has already completed his second feature -- the romantic drama LOST FOR WORDS, starring Grace Huang, Sean Faris and Will Yun Lee -- which is now playing the film festival circuit.